I saw Hannah Whitten’s For the Wolf everywhere leading up to its release, but I never heard much about it. The book was always on my TBR, but it kept falling further and further down my list to accommodate other reads. Now after reading this awesome story, I’m sad it took me this long to get to it and also relish that I had a good story to close out the year.
The royal family in Valleyda must abide by two rules when two daughters are born: the first is meant for the throne and the second is sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wilderwood. This sacrifice is the only thing keeping the shadow monsters within the forest’s borders, and the people of Valleyda hope it will be enough to free their lost gods from the Wilderwood one day. As the second daughter, Red was sidelined for most of her life while her older twin sister was groomed to rule. Despite the fact that they were destined for different paths, the sisters grew incredibly close, and Neve desperately tries to keep Red from her duty. Red sees no other way but through, and enters the Wilderwood donning her red cloak as a willing sacrifice. There she discovers a magical forest on the brink of destruction and a Wolf who is nothing like the stories say. As Red confronts the magic welling within her, Neve will stop at nothing to get her sister back.
It is because Red loves her sister so much that she honors her duty and journies into the Wilderwood. When the girls were younger, an incident outside of the forest left Red with a terrifying power that almost killed Neve. Red is resigned to her fate because she thinks it’s the best option to keep her sister safe from herself. Neve, not knowing this, does not understand why her sister would give into this sacrifice. On the other hand, the Wolf knows the magic within Red and helps her learn to trust the power. There are two sides to the story here, so Whitten included seven interludes from Neve’s perspective. These interludes were great, purposeful, and expanded the world. There’s Red, who discovers she wants to help the Wilderwood and its inhabitants as she grows more confident with her power. Then there’s Neve, who believes her sister needs to be saved and gets desperate enough to do anything to make that happen. As brief as the interludes are, it does give the reader insight and builds dread as we come to understand how Neve’s choices are affecting Red.
The dynamic between Red and the Wolf of the Wilderwood was my sustenance in this story. All of the book’s elements are great, but I was all in for their slow-burn story, during which they learn to understand each other. I’m a sucker for these types of relationships because I love to see how the author uses dialogue and situations to bridge gaps between two people. Especially when someone like Whitten comes along and does it so deftly and purposeful that it feels real. It’s such an easy thing to mess up—a character’s response could feel misplaced or an event could feel too forced. None of that happens between Red and the Wolf. Their relationship delicately unfolds into this awesome pairing, and it’s almost too precious to bear.
I also enjoyed how Whitten played around with folklore and religion in For the Wolf. She blurred the lines and warped stories as the centuries passed until people could not tell fact from fiction. And with the two POVs, the reader experiences different breakdowns of long-held beliefs. Through Red, we see how the story evolved and impacted the sacrifices her homeland required of her. And with Neve, she faces a faction of devout priestesses who fervently lean into the beliefs but want to change their ways to bring about change. It’s interesting to see how one influential person can shape a character’s worldview and how different it can be based on what information is shared or what weaknesses they exploit. This is especially prevalent in Neve’s story, where Whitten shows how people around her pull strings to serve their cause. You can’t help but feel devastated in her chapters because she whole-heartedly believes she’s doing right. In Red’s case, it was interesting to see what the Wolf said and did to help her unpack the belief system that surrounded her since birth.
For The Wolf was such a satisfying read for me because the story is simply told well. The characters, world, and plot all work together in perfect harmony to create one of the year’s best books. I’m left enchanted and only a couple of Google searches away from buying my own red cloak and diving headfirst into the forest myself.
Rating: For the Wolf – 9.0/10