Title: The Will and the Wilds
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Page Count: 267
Synopsis: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: Original fae lore, strong standalone fantasy, enemies-to-lovers
Recommended Readers: Lovers of fairytales and trickster characters
CAWPILE Rating: 9.14
A modern-day fairytale does exist that can sweep you away into adventure and make you sigh wistfully, and it’s The Will and the Wilds by Charlie N. Holmberg.
I’ve had my eye on this book for awhile, especially since a certain long-winded, so-called fae court series continued to disappointment me and fuel my hatred. Didn’t any author besides Holly Black actually know what fae are? Can’t anyone capture the sense of adventure and danger that comes with bargaining with magical creatures that exist beyond human understanding? Is enemies-to-lovers well and truly dead, with my choices being either “had an argument once”-to-lovers or animalistic alpha male rutting and mating bonds? “Nay!” said Holmberg. “I am here for you, my child.”
Thank you, Ms. Holmberg, I owe you my life.
Enna Rydar lives on the outskirts of town with her father, growing various herbs and plants that can protect them from any mystings that come out of the wildwood. Enna knows how dangerous mystings can be, but when one breaks through her home’s wards and tries to kill her for a magic stone she possesses, she decides to fight back by summoning another mysting to defend her. Maekallus answers her call, but he never helps for free. He demands a kiss, knowing just one willingly given is enough for him to consume Enna’s soul. Yet Enna is cautious and manages to shift the bargain in her favor—until something goes wrong, and Maekallus winds up bound to the mortal realm, which slowly eats him alive. Enna’s kiss can restore him temporarily, but each time, she will lose a piece of her soul and he will gain the ability to feel for the first time. Enna’s soul binds them together, their suffering shared, and if they cannot find a way to break the spell keeping Maekallus trapped, then Maekallus will die, taking Enna’s soul with him.
First up, I loved Enna. She is the inquisitive sort of protagonist who is thoughtful, protective, and isn’t afraid of taking the initiative. Even when things seem hopeless, she’s going to try. She’s going to do something, and even if it doesn’t work, she won’t linger in her discouragement. She’s not a kickass, dual-wielding heroine, but she is certainly strong, allowed to experience emotions and be vulnerable (and not be immediately punished for it). Her relationship with her father is also very special and tender and isn’t lost to the background like so many heroine-parental relationships are in fairytales.
I was exceedingly charmed by her along with the story’s setting, a quaint town on the edge of a mysterious wood, the human world sharing space with an unseen monster world. Such a setting helps the reader experience that warm feeling of familiarity that fairytales often evoke; meanwhile, Holmberg flexed her creativity by describing the different types of mystings there are and the lore attached to them.
Enter Maekallus, a trickster narval that I am very much in love with. I truly loved everything about him from his sly smile to his hoofed feet, from the horn protruding from his forehead to the tail ending with a blade that’s sharp enough to cut. Then, there’s the glowing yellow eyes and the long red hair. Yes, yes, Holmberg, you did it! You gave me a redheaded trickster fae that does indeed act like a trickster fae! A lost art form! I bow to you!
Now, in this story, fae/mystings can lie, and Maekallus has no problem doing so with Enna from the first. He also has no problems telling her the truth when it suits him. She, meanwhile, is smart enough not to trust him while being desperate enough to have no other choice. These two being forced to work together is a thing of beauty, especially since Maekallus doesn’t care at all for humans but is amused by them. And then the soul stuff starts happening along with the kissing, and then here come the uncomfortable, terrible feelings that nobody here wants. Yep! [slaps the hood of this enemies-to-lovers ship] This baby can go for miles!
While this isn’t a dark book by any means, if you’re looking for a fairytale to enjoy, The Will and the Wilds is here to draw you into its embrace and capture your soul at any time. It’s certainly not a long read and the general story is quite basic, being more character-driven than anything—but honestly, that was a plus for me. Not everything has to build up to some world-shattering ending. Two books I recently finished just did that, and it did nothing for me because no real work had been done with the characters, so reading this emotional journey that Enna and Maekallus went on was much-needed.
The Will and the Wilds just makes you fall in love with stories again, y’know? To say nothing of falling in love with love.