Hannah Whitten’s debut novel is For the Wolf, the first book in the Wilderwood series. A fairy tale retelling of sorts, For the Wolf tells the story of Red (Redarys), the only Second Daughter born in centuries. Red has only one purpose: to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the woods in hopes that he will return the captured gods of her world.
Though it means she has to leave behind her twin sister and future Queen of Valleyda, Neve, Red is almost relieved to go. She is plagued by a mysterious power that she cannot control, and one that has already proven itself to be a danger to those she loves. And so, she surrenders to her fate. But the legends lie. The Wolf is no monster, only a man forcefully bound to the woods, which must be maintained to “hold fast against the things bound beneath.”
Despite the protagonist being named Red and the titular Wolf being a central player in the story, For the Wolf shares a lot more in common with Beauty and the Beast than it does with Little Red Riding Hood. Whitten takes the well-known fairy tale elements and tropes and puts her own distinctive twist on it, providing something akin to a meta-narrative or commentary on the way stories can be warped (and often weaponised) by time and vested interests. It is nowhere near as dark as the promotional materials would suggest – more angsty than gritty or sinister – but still makes for a compelling read.
For the Wolf does work well to toy with the reader’s expectations; Whitten mostly plays it close to the vest, taking the time to weave a rich physical and historical landscape and build intrigue before showing us how the pieces fit together. The mythology is engaging and wholly unique, particularly in its constructions of the Wilderwood, which are so elaborate as to make the woods a character of its own.
Whitten's prose also has an appropriately fairy tale-like quality of its own, with its repetition of stark imagery, visceral descriptions, and grounded sense of place. The characterisation too is a strong suit; the careful construction of the novel’s central romance provides as much of the emotional engagement as it does momentum for its characters’ narrative arcs.
Overall, For the Wolf is perhaps relies too heavily on melodrama and angst in order to keep the reader engaged, and it can feel frustrating that the characters are obstinately going in circles – determined as they are to keep sacrificing their lives for each other. However, if you enjoy retellings and slow-burn, romance-heavy fantasy novels with intriguing world building, it is more than likely you'll find a lot to love in For the Wolf .
For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten is out now, published by Orbit Books.