For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
Orbit, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Redarys is the second daughter of Queen Isla, and her future lies in the Wilderwood, a sacrifice for the Wolf in the hope he will release the five kings who are revered as gods among Red’s people. Red doesn’t care about religion, or the kings, or even trying to escape her fate. The Wilderwood runs through her veins, making her dangerous to those around her. Red would rather be at the mercy of the vile Wolf than possibly harm her sister, Neve.
But when Red finds Wolf, she discovers a man with the forest in his blood like her. He is a warden, trying to protect everyone from monsters that lurk in the mists beyond the woods. Red realises everything she thought about Wolf as a devour of women and a jailor for the five kings is wrong. Wolf is the last line of defence between the monsters that took the kings and humanity. She has to learn to help him quick because Wolf is starting to weaken.
For the Wolf tells the story of two sisters and their love for one another. When Red is sent into the Wilderwood as a sacrifice, Neve searches for a way to bring her back. Neve’s sections of the books are much smaller than Red’s, giving us glimpses into Valleyda, the kingdom Red left behind, and Neve’s attempts to navigate the political intrigues as the heir to the throne. Because these are snippets, mostly shown when Red views her sister through a magic mirror, there are some things we don’t see, a couple of deaths, for example. However, this didn’t ruin the story for me. Instead, it brought home the sisters’ pain as they were each shouldering so much responsibility without their best friend.
Red is a powerful character, determined and unruly. She knows her own mind and is willing to sacrifice everything for those she loves. However, this sacrifice also comes the strength to recognise when she can’t do something alone and ask for help. A rare trait for the heroine of a YA novel and made me warm to her immediately. That level of maturity moves the story along. It saves the reader from repeated angst about things she can’t accomplish. It also helps that Wolf, or Eammon to use his real name, is very similar. He has lived his whole life knowing the importance of keeping corruption out of the forest; this is his burden. Yet, he is willing to take help where he can get it, so his relationship with Red blossoms naturally rather than feeling forced.
Whitten’s world-building skills are very strong. I read For the Wolf on a gloriously sunny beach, and yet I was right there in the forest and the crumbling castle. I didn’t breathe sun and sand; I inhaled moss and dampness. I also enjoyed Whitten’s references to other fairy tales, some subtle, other’s less so. Red and Wolf are fairly obvious, but she has also drawn inspiration from Beauty and the Beast and Snow White. There are probably more than I don’t recognise, but Whitten has reclaimed these stories from the child-friendly version with singing animals into the darker life lessons they originally were. In short, I couldn’t put it down and want more as soon as possible.
Full of compelling characters, excellent world-building, romance both unrequited and full-on, and the ultimate of betrayals, For the Wolf is a fantastic read that will leave you frustrated we have to wait so long for the next instalment.