For The Wolf is the kind of book that while not perfect, it still had me so inexorably hooked that I binge read it in what was effectively the span of 16 hours! Let me start then by saying that this was an incredible debut and I am extremely eager to see what’s to come from this new author in the future for the continuation of this series!
I am a huge sucker for several elements present in this story, with the two main ones being, sentient forest + plant magic and the fairy tale undertone. I say undertone when really it did feel like a Beauty and the Beast retelling, which also had elements from Little Red Riding Hood, as well as some other tales peppered in. B&B is one of my favorite tales of all time so there was no way I wouldn’t be immensely curious about it – especially because, while still paying homage to the original, Whitten does make it her own in creating a mesmerizing world full of an unforgiving sort of magic and good intentions gone awry.
The other thing I absolutely will never get tired of reading is the dichotomy between what trickles down into becoming a myth/religion versus what actually happened. I utterly revel in scenes where certainties are broken and revealed for the misconceptions, if not complete lies, that they truly are! Or to a less extreme extent, the simple revelation that things that initially seem malicious are only just fighting to do what they’re supposed to any way they can. I think Whitten showed a great hand at figuring out how much to tell and when, in order to keep the tension going in a way that kept me wanting to know more in order to see how it would all turn out.
Whitten’s prose moreover is near lyrical and strongly metaphoric, which lends itself very well to the ambiance she sought to create. This was truly a very atmospheric book, strongly driven by a desire to set the mood in such a manner that you practically felt like you were walking in the Wilderwood or hearing the eerie creak of semi-sentient thorn vines and ivy slither toward you. This admittedly hurt the pacing of the plot at times however, as Whitten toed the line of just enough and a tad too much ambience setting. Nonetheless this was something which she seemed to shake off well enough towards the end where the action packed conclusion wrapped up in a manner that left me both extremely satisfied and curious to see how she’ll resolve the loose ends left strategically hanging.
My only real pet peeve overall was a certain lack of natural curiosity in the characters here and there. It seemed like the author was more concerned with progressing the plot than with letting her characters take a moment and ask questions! Or put another way, there were instances when, the author knew what happened to character A, the reader knew that as well, but when A met B, B didn’t even bother thinking about asking A what happened (when you would expect them to want that more than anything given the circumstances/context) but instead jumped right into progressing the story.
Moving on though, special mention goes to the love stories within, but more importantly, to the underlying narrative of consent throughout the plot. This latter aspect was really well woven in, not just in regards to the dynamics among the different couples in the story (which oh I could go through with a fine comb and say how good and healthy they were for all the different reasons, as opposed to the ones that weren’t !), but also pertaining to the magic in the story. I find it a good narrative to have frankly – things freely given are way better than those taken by force – especially because it explores the wider repercussions of selfish or narrow minded brash actions.
Now, I am personally not the biggest fan of romance, nor most romance tropes, however I am woman enough to admit that when it is written well, in a way that feels organic to the story and characters, without being cheesy, then I can become a fuzzy ball of feels and appreciate a good dynamic that develops in the midst of a plot of political intrigue, harsh magic, and betrayal! Red felt like a solid counterpart to the Wolf’s slowly crumbling strength for reasons too spoilery to properly get into, which was for one a good trope inversion; but aside from that, the biggest win for me was that Whitten took a trope so beloved (and arguably overused in the wrong ways) of the tall dark and handsome broody loner male protag, and polished it until she got rid of all the crap that used to be “cool” but upon longer thought is actually quite icky.
There’s no BS of the pointlessly-aggressive/domineering-alpha-male-that-takes-what-they-want-as-they-please-with-an-added-round-of-volatile-temper kind. I loved the Wolf, cause he’s a badass sure, but he’s also a very tired guy trying his best, without being a jerk about it. He just wants to translate his books and protect those he can, while also not rolling over though (bad time for a dog pun ?).
Chef’s kiss really.
This may have gotten away from me a little dear reader, but I think that’s what works for this novel as well! It’s open to so much good discussion! But I better wrap this up so I’ll say this; For The Wolf was a phenomenal debut and ultimately, I have a feeling that most of my “issues” with this first installment will be resolved as Whitten continues to write and share her enthralling stories and fascinating characters with us. I also think that if you’re looking for an immersive ambience, with a plot shrouded in enchanted forest mist, old ruined keeps, and intriguing characters reminiscent of fairy tales, then this is absolutely the book for you!
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.