Saturday, December 25, 2021

Review: FOR THE WOLF by Hannah Whitten


Rating: 2.25/5 stars

This book frustrated me. 

In the beginning, I thought this was going to be everything I wanted Uprooted to be but wasn’t. That book disappointed me so deeply, so I was hopeful that For the Wolf would make up for it. Both novels are about a girl who is chosen to go into the forest to be given to the monster who rules the forest, and in both books the monster turns out to be just a man and a romance eventually blossoms as the girl learns about her innate magical ability. I’ve also seen this book compared to The Bear and the Nightingale, another book about a girl who goes into the forest to meet the monster-turned-man who lives inside, which also sadly disappointed me. 

I don’t know if I just have bad luck with fantasy books about magical girls romancing the brooding not-villain in the forest, but For the Wolf, unfortunately, did not live up to the hype for me, and it made me very sad. I genuinely wanted to love this book.

For the Wolf is kind of a retelling of Beauty and the Beast while also paying homage to Red Riding Hood, but it also has its own spin as well. The spooky dark forest vibes were spot on, and it’s one thing I really enjoyed about the story. This book is very atmospheric and I loved that too. Whitten’s writing is lyrical and descriptive and captivating. 

I wasn’t really sold on the romance though. It’s a slow-burn clean romance with a brooding love interest. The Wolf, AKA Eammon, is dark and mysterious and quietly protective of Red. He’s like a grumpy cinnamon roll. He’s a good guy and I liked him. Obviously, Red and the Wolf are forced to live together in his keep, but I never really felt the connection between them. They acted more like amicable roommates than romantic partners, and I guess for the majority of the book they weren’t romantic partners, but I still didn’t ever feel like they were in love, nor did I understand why they did end up loving each other for any reason other than forced proximity. 

The Wilderwood is a mysterious and dark forest haunted by shadow-creatures, and with trees whose tendrils creep into the keep and come after Red. Only blood from those who have been Marked can keep it at bay. It’s unclear if it’s the Wilderwood that’s bad, or if it’s the Shadowlands somehow contained inside the Wilderwood that’s bad. I wish we got more information in the narrative about the Wilderwood. It wasn’t always dark and dangerous, but I never really understood what caused it to become that way and when it happened. There are shadow-creatures in the forest along with sentinels and wardens, but none of it was ever explained enough for me to fully grasp all the concepts beyond “dark and scary forest full of dangerous creatures.”  

At first, I enjoyed the blood magic aspect in this book, until I realized it makes no sense. Multiple characters with the Mark routinely cut themselves throughout the novel and collect their blood in vials as offerings to the forest. Blood has some kind of power in the woods because Eammon told Red to never bleed where the forest could see. However, I never fully understood what their magical gifts were or what their blood could do or how it was all connected. The magic feels very surface-level and kind of falls apart if you look at it too deeply. 

I also wish we got more information about the Five Kings. The book’s whole story is based around giving the second daughter as a sacrifice to the Wolf in hopes that the Five Kings will be returned to the town of Valleyda. They are godly figures, but we never learn their history telling us how they got to be that way or what they did or will do once they return or anything else relevant. We just know that the town wants them back and sending Red to the Wolf is supposed to make that happen. But why are they important? 

There are interludes throughout the book from Neve’s POV back in Valleyda, and there are lots of court politics going on there with a bunch of different priestesses and other characters, and I honestly just couldn’t care about these interludes whatsoever. I didn’t really care for Neve’s whiny narration, and every other character in her perspective was one-dimensional because of lack of development to the point that I couldn’t tell any members of court apart from one another. Not a single one. And all the people were talking about trade negotiations and land borders and religious rites that all meant nothing to me because there was no information leading up to that point to make me care about any of that. Reading the interludes felt like opening up to the middle of the third book in a high fantasy series and reading a chapter from it and then closing the book. None of it stuck with me and none of it was relevant because I had no context beforehand. So I ended up not liking or caring about Neve at all and was only interested in Red’s story. 

I had a weird experience with this book where multiple times throughout the story I would look at the chunk of pages left to read and think, “What is even going to happen in all those pages?” And then I would look at the chunk of pages I’d already read and think, “What did I even read about in all those pages?” This happened to me throughout the whole book and now that I’m done, I still can’t really tell you what happened in all those pages. I feel like this whole book is just Eammon teaching Red magic in his keep, and then he goes into the forest and tells her not to follow him, but she follows him anyway, and then they fight shadow-creatures and rot in the forest on their way to get supplies. This series of events happened liked like three or four times in the story and I got very tired very quickly of reading about it because what was the point. 

My feelings are complicated. I enjoyed the atmospheric writing and the story of For the Wolf in the beginning, but around the halfway mark I realized I wasn’t as invested as I had been at the start and I didn’t care as much about the characters as I wanted to. Then around the 70% mark, I was starting to get weary and just wishing for the book to end because it was becoming a struggle to get through. It could have been a strong fantasy novel, but it needed more detail all around—more character development, more worldbuilding, more information about the Wilderwood, more history of the Kings, more clarification on the blood magic, and more concrete plot points. The whole book is ethereal and vague, which adds to the ambiance but doesn’t add to the book’s strengths. I am not planning on reading the sequel, For the Throne, because I don’t want to read any more about Neve and I frankly just don’t care about this story enough to continue on. I do hope, though, that it will be a stronger installment in this series and provide some of the missing answers that this story deserves for those who are continuing on. 

It’s hard for me to rate this book because I was convinced when I started that it was going to be 5 stars, and then it dropped to 4 stars, and then for a long stretch I settled on 3 stars, but by the time I got to the last quarter, it had dropped to barely 2 stars. My interest and attention waned the further into the story I read, and that makes me really sad. 

Read For the Wolf for the atmosphere and the romance because those are this book’s focal points. Do not read this book if you’re looking for an epic fantasy, expansive worldbuiling, a plot that makes sense, or an in-depth magic system because you won’t find that here. Even though I was ultimately left disappointed with this book and do not plan on reading the sequel, I would still recommend this book to the right audience, so know what kind of story you want before you start it. For the Wolf is marketed as adult fantasy, but I really think it would be better suited to readers who prefer reading young adult stories; it’s a good crossover book. I intend to read Hannah Whitten future series she has planned because I did enjoy her writing style, so hopefully she has honed her craft a bit more by the time they release. 

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