UK cover shown, as I prefer it to the US cover
Release date: 10 January 2023 (19 January 2023 in UK)
Book Boxes: FairyLoot Adult December 2022
Synopsis: 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.
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries details the adventures of an adjunct professor in epistolary format through journal entries. Normally, I can’t suffer books in this format—Pamela was torture for me—but these entries were written in a very narrative style with dialogue and everything, so it wasn’t intrusive at all. Emily as narrator serves very well for the story telling, as she is not insufferably self-righteous, doesn’t whack readers over the head with political and moral lectures, and goes through life owning her own awkwardness with only a mild case of caring what others think—to the extent that it affects her research, of course. Though the overall romance and main characters reminded me quite a bit of Olivia Atwater’s Ten Thousand Stitches (I read the indie, not Orbit’s reissue), I was very excited to have made it through the book and have many of my whimsical, woodsy-setting faerie story expectations met with this fun, partly dark tale demonstrating the dangers letting one’s academic curiosity get the better of her when doing field research on faeries.
The characters really shine the most for me in this tale. Emily is delightfully awkward, and I relate to her so much it is uncanny. She is happy to venture on her own with her giant hound, Shadow (I dare anyone to read the book and not fall absolutely in love with this dog), and leave the world of humans behind. She knows how to navigate the world of faery, but when it comes to her own species, forget it. Much like Temperance Brennan in Bones, she has a brilliance to her that overshadows her concern for her own safety and, while she wants to learn more and be a ground-breaking field researcher in her field, she also has a strong moral compass when it comes to making sure those around her, of either species, enjoy safety and security in their own lands and homes.
The antithesis to Emily, Bambleby, as many can take from the synopsis, is not quite what he seems to be. He charms the pants off of everyone except Emily, and she knows from the start something’s up with him. There’s very much a vibe here akin to The Hating Game, with a bit less snark, but I loved the chemistry between these two, and their interactions made the whole story, in addition to the wonderful setting and atmosphere, so enjoyable. Bambleby’s idiosyncrasies also add a comedic charm to the novel that breaks up the dark themes associated with the Folk the characters encounter and deal with during the story.
Refreshingly, as forest places are my favorite of all settings, this story lived up to the expectations I set for it in that respect. Readers always form an impression of a story in their minds before reading, and I’ll say for my experience, Fawcett sets the scene brilliantly on a snowy northern Norwegian island (though I can’t find it on the map— the closest city name to the one in the book is Hrafnsvíkur, which is in Iceland). Everything is whimsical, charming, foreboding, and frightening all at the same time. In a complementary fashion, Emily’s abode while living in the village of Hravnsvik happens to be a small cottage, which gives the book a hygge vibe that will make readers reluctant to leave the world.
I’d say the only drawback for me is the length of the book, as it is fantasy, which is generally longer to accommodate adequate world building. Though this book is set partially in our actual world, it also takes place in the world of faerie, which is explained in the book as having no real set rules of governance or patterns of order to its existence, which felt a bit lazy to me. Much of the last part of the book is full of action and the pace goes so quickly that the book ends quite abruptly, leaving much more to be desired. As it is, the book is barely over 300 pages, and as an adult book, the price is about $10 more than a YA fantasy, most of which are 400+ pages. I know the price of the book, $28.00 MSRP, sets an expectation of a heftier story with a longer span of entertainment to go with it.
Overall, 4/5. Though the story is great and the setting and characters charming, I wish it were a bit longer with some more effort behind the world building to complement the complexity implied in the machinations of the faerie world.
My thanks to NetGalley and DelRey books for the ARC, for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.