by Heather Fawcett
Series: Emily Wilde #1
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication Date: January 10, 2023
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world's first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party--or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.
So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily's research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.
But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones--the most elusive of all faeries--lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she'll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all--her own heart.
I absolutely adored this! One standoffish professor plus her exact opposite best (only) friend plus a countryside full of faeries? Magical!
At long last, Emily has made the long journey to Ljosland to study the Hidden Ones, the previous unresearched faeries who live there. Her entry on them will be the crowning achievement to her encyclopedia of faeries. If only she hadn’t somehow offended all the townsfolk on her first day… The sudden arrival of her colleague Wendell – and how quickly the townsfolk latch on to him – is an annoyance, but she’s determined not to let anything stand in the way of her research. Not even the enigmatic Wendell.
The book is written as a diary with most of the entries from Emily’s point of view so, despite the format, we get a pretty clear look inside her head. While fieldwork is invigorating, Emily’s also the sort of person who wistfully misses her university library. As one of those people who’s dreamed of being a professor at one of those historic British colleges with gorgeous libraries, I instantly fell in love with her. She’s meticulous in her research and extremely knowledgeable about faeries but people are an utter mystery to her. I’m not sure it was intentional but she did read as neurodivergent to me. She can come off as uncaring – especially when interviewing someone about a faerie encounter – but it’s more that she gets so enthralled intellectually. But when someone needs help, Emily’s the first person to go charging in. One of the villagers initially refers to her as a “library mouse” and it seems to fit, but as the book goes on we see why Wendell fondly refers to her as “my dear dragon.” Which, oof, my heart!
Wendell Bambleby’s sort of a competitor but also her friend – her only friend in fact. Wendell’s a peacock and an absolute agent of (lazy) chaos so it’s no surprise that Emily’s frequently exasperated with him. But underneath all that it’s clear from the start that they care for each other in their own way. While there is a romance, it’s secondary to the main plot but it was still immensely fulfilling. There’s unrequited pining that’s just so delicious, and the gradual reveal of feelings is through their actions, not their words. He appreciates all of Emily, her strengths and flaws, though I suppose he’d rather she charge off into danger a little less.
The book starts out pretty cozy with Emily’s problems with the townsfolk being the worst problem. And then Wendell arrives and the plot careens into motion. While Emily’s first faerie encounter is relatively benign, it’s quickly clear that the rest of the Hidden Ones are not so friendly. There’s several very tense situations that had me on the edge of my seat. While I think it’s more slowly paced over all, those bits of terror nicely balanced out the slower pieces and made it nearly impossible to put the book down.
Like, wow, that quote?!?! I am completely in love with the writing, the characters, the setting and I would gladly devour a whole series about them. This gave me strong Uprooted vibes, and since that’s possibly my favorite book of all time, that’s pretty high praise!