The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.
And the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.
As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose – to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods. Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again. But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood – and her world – whole.
Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
For the Wolf gripped me immediately. It opens a few days before Redarys’ ceremony, in which she will be dedicated to the Wolf and sent to the Wilderwood as a sacrifice, in the hopes the the Five Kings that disappeared 400 years before will finally be released from the forest that holds them prisoners. As the Second Daughter, she has been raised for this, but Red has another reason for submitting to this ceremony she doesn’t believe in: for four years, ever since her and her twin sister Neve rode out to the Wilderwood in the hopes of destroying it, she has had a shaft of it embedded within her, a strange magic she keeps caged because it always seeks a way out, and she does not want to hurt anyone around her. So even with her sister and her friends trying to get her to run while she can, she takes the path into the Woods.
‘He was somewhere in there. She could feel it, almost, an awareness that prickled at the back of her neck, plucked at the Mark on her arm. The Wolf, the keeper of the Wilderwood and alleged jailer of gods.’
When Red does enter the forest, she finds that a lot of what the stories say is not true: the Wolf is not a monster but a man, and he is working hard to keep the forest intact and the lands beyond it safe from the monsters it imprisons. Red hadn’t expected to live beyond her first day in the Wilderwood, let alone start to enjoy her time there, and maybe even enjoy the company of Eammon, the Wolf.
Eammon is the perfect dark, handsome, and tortured soul. At his core, though, he is incredibly caring and all his agony comes from putting everyone before himself to keep them safe, and the dynamic between him and Red as she tries to take on some of his burden was sweet torture to read. I expected, from the start, that this would be a slow-burn romance, and I was not disappointed. I flew through all the Red and Eammon scenes, while wanting to savour them at the same time. I will definitely be rereading this more slowly sometime in the future, when I’m not also worrying about what comes next in the plot.
One thing I didn’t expect from this story was how dark it would be; while the Wilderwood isn’t quite what Red was led to believe, it is still a primal and violent force, and the shadows it holds back are real enough. The scenes in which these shadows break through their prison gave me goosebumps, and Whitten does a great job providing just enough of a description that the reader’s mind will fill in the rest, which makes it scarier.
‘The thing might’ve been a man, once, and that made it worse. The way he moved was wrong, low and lurching, on legs with knees bent backward. His shirt hung open at the arm, a long, dark slash marking his swollen bicep. Shadow crawled from the wound, inched over his skin, rotting it as surely as it rotted the ground. “Saw the shadows,” he singsonged, pacing back and forth. “Saw the shadows and the things in the shadows, and the things in the shadows have teeth.”’
This darkness woven in with the golden legend of the Kings and the original Wolf and Second Daughter create a tense atmosphere, in which both characters and readers are looking for the truth behind the myths, and Red and her sister Neve are trying to come to terms with them on their different sides of the world.
All of this – compelling characters, dark settings, legendary creatures, a tortured romance – is pulled together by exquisite writing that flows with imagery yet moves the story along seamlessly. I absolutely could not get enough of this book, and I expect the bittersweet feeling it has left me with will stay with me for a while. Book two, For the Throne, cannot come soon enough!
Published: 3rd June 2021 by Orbit Books
Genre: fantasy, folktale
Series: The Wilderwood, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, two points of view
Format read: eARC
Copy owned: not yet, but have preordered
Trigger Warnings: blood, body horror, torture, death
Quotes taken from an uncorrected proof copy and may not reflect the final product.