Review: A Far Wilder Magic – Allison Saft
by Allison Saft
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.
Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist--yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he's landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.
Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it's like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt - if they survive that long.
In A Far Wilder Magic, Allison Saft has written an achingly tender love story set against a deadly hunt in an atmospheric, rich fantasy world that will sweep you away.
After the incredibly inventive Down Comes the Night, I wondered how the author could follow up that debut. Well, this is definitely a worthy successor, full of characters who do lots of pining for the other while simultaneously being in denial.
While her mother, an alchemist, travels the world in pursuit of her craft, Margaret lives a solitary life taking care of their dilapidated mansion on the edge of a small English village. But she knows things will change when she spots the Hala, a legendary magical creature, in the woods. The Halfmoon Hunt will be coming to attempt to kill the Hala, and whoever does so will win fame and fortune. For Margaret, it might mean bringing her mother home for good. For Wes, a poor boy from the tenements, this might be his last chance at becoming an alchemist. Well, what he wants to do is change the country by becoming a politician, and the only way to do that is to become an alchemist. With their futures on the line, the two strangers must learn to work together as a team to bring down the Hala – if the other competitors don’t get them first.
“It’s you and me against the world, Margaret.”
While I initially expected the Hunt to be the main focus of the book, there’s actually a large amount of time spent first getting to know Margaret and Wes from their points of view. While there is action, it’s more of a character-driven book. While Margaret and Wes have both had to deal with being outsiders, each reacts differently. Margaret is, well, grumpy, stoic and distrustful, a crack sharpshooter, while Wes papers over his hurt with charm, witty words and flirting. Margaret’s gotten so used to being on her own that the thought of someone liking her for herself, loving her for herself is a foreign concept, and one that takes quite a bit of time to work through. Luckily Wes doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Watching the two of them get blindsided by their deepening romance was utterly enjoyable and one of my favorite parts of the book.
“Misfortune has hardened them both. It’s roughened her, but it’s polished him to a sheen. If he lets the world believe he is all surface, then there is nothing to expose. Beneath her implacable stare, however, he is utterly naked.”
The core themes of the book revolve around loneliness and belonging. While Wes has a large loud and generally supportive family, after his father’s death, he also feels the pressure to support them. His continued failures at alchemy (there’s several clues that he’s dyslexic) are a disappointment to him and some of his family. Family is an even more complicated concept for Margaret. With her brother dead and her father gone, her mother is all that remains of her family, but her mother is more interested in her alchemical pursuits than Margaret. Both are outsiders, belonging to different minority religions that expose them to contempt and sometimes outright persecution. The religions in the book, though under different names, directly correlate to Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, from people maligning the pope to talking about Shabbos. It feels like a fantasy version of the 1920s, when increased immigration threatened the Protestant status quo in America. Each religion has a different view of the Hala, from being a sign of God’s love to an abomination (and ergo the Hunt), and sometimes the characters have to sacrifice some of their beliefs in order to continue with the Hunt.
Overall, this was an engrossing, character-focused fantasy romance, and I can’t wait to see what this author writes next!
Content notes: View Spoiler »animal cruelty and death, violence, parental neglect and abandonment, death of a sibling (before the book starts), death of a parent (before the book starts), grief, PTSD, anxiety attack (on-page), ableism, religious intolerance (including antisemitism), misogyny, xenophobia, bullying « Hide Spoiler