From the first page of Ava Reid’s impressive debut novel, we are thrown into a world of human sacrifice and tyrannical rulers, and taken on a journey that explores what we are willing to forfeit in order to prolong our existence.
Évike is a social outcast in her small village; both her unsuitable parentage and inability to develop the magical powers that all other village women have make her the ideal human sacrifice to the region’s king. When the much-feared Woodsmen come to collect their bounty, Évike is thrust forward, under the guise of being a seer. When their traveling party is attacked on the journey back, only Évike and the lead Woodsman survive the encounter — and their true identities are revealed. Évike is no seer and the Woodsman is actually the crown prince, Gáspár. They form a union of necessity when they discover a shared desire to overthrow the oppressive powers threatening their land. The Woodsman is concerned for the fate of his subjects should his cruel half-brother take the throne, while Évike realizes that despite the ill treatment she received from her fellow villagers, they are worth protecting. The two characters start a quest that will force them to learn to trust each other as they travel through the forests that make up their home kingdom.
We are witness to Évike’s struggle for personal acceptance, despite the collective opinion that she holds little worth. The blossoming relationship between her and Gáspár cements her longing for magical abilities, and she mimics an age-old Woodsmen practice of physical mutilation in an attempt to manifest her own powers — which works. We feel the pain she suffers in order to be accepted in this world, and the book further asks us to consider the ultimate price of these sacrifices. What are we prepared to give in order to sustain our existence, and what and what are the consequences in the long run?
Rich with vivid description, fantastical monsters, and magic unmatched by most other books for its pure physicality, this story may be strongly influenced by Jewish folklore — but the voice is original, perhaps as it’s refreshingly female. What will continue to strike a chord with readers long after they have put the book down is the determination of the protagonist to flourish regardless of personal cost.
Hazel McNulty Czapsky is an avid reader who currently lives and works in New York City.