Originally posted on Leah’s Books.
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries
- Author: Heather Fawcett
- Genre: Fantasy
- Publication Date: January 10, 2023
- Publisher: Del Rey Books
- Series: Emily Wilde #1
Thank you to NetGalley and Del Rey Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: blood, violence, murder, gore
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 was originally drawn to this book since it was promoted as comparable to Naomi Novik’s writing. And while there were definitely some similarities to Spinning Silver, this book definitely stood on it’s own legs, and it was both fascinating and enchanting in equal measure.
It’s written entirely in journal entry format, beginning with Emily Wilde’s journey to the distant Northern village of Hrafnsvik to study the Hidden Ones and other Fair Folk of the region, in order to complete her encyclopedia. But things don’t exactly go her way from the start. She immediately manages to offend basically everyone in her path, and even worse, her frenemy and academic peer Wendell Bambleby arrives suddenly, throwing off all of her plans.
I found Emily to be a really likable character, even as she struggled to be a people person. It wasn’t that she didn’t have anything to say, because according to her journal entries, she had plenty to say. She’s observant, articulate, and brilliant, yet she’s socially awkward, and possibly even neurodivergent. I was fascinated with her interactions with Wendell, who appeared to understand her better than anyone else. Often, when he would ask her a question, she would snap at him quickly, or if he asked her a question that involved a serious answer, she required additional time to organize her thoughts and provide an answer. I loved how Wendell just patiently waited and allowed her the time to consider what she wanted to say, without pushing her to answer him. This is especially evident towards the end of the book. The two of them seem to be especially well-suited for each other—him basking in the attention that she dreads, and her lacking in social graces that he has loads of. And they just seem to get each other at such a deep level.
The story takes place in the early 1900s, and it has a great balance of academia, fantasy, and folklore, which then easily transitions into mystery and suspense with bits of action and romance, which made for an incredibly compelling read. It’s written in both an academic style, yet beautifully descriptive and never dry. I was able to picture all of the fantastical things that were written about, and loved all of it—the exposure to the faerie world, the gorgeous setting of both the human and fae world, and the interactions that all of the characters have.
For me, the strength of this story was watching Emily grow. Initially, she’s exceptionally closed off, focusing on her academic goals and Shadow, her dog. Her entire life is consumed by her work, and while she isn’t lonely, her life is solitary. But over time, and with the addition of Wendell’s presence, she learns how to open herself to others. It happens slowly over the course of the book; so slowly in fact, that she doesn’t even realize that it’s happening, until she’s surrounded by not only people, but actual friends who care about her and her well-being. I loved watching her learn her value not only in academia but also as a human being with emotions and more to offer than her knowledge of the Fair Folk. I’m delighted to see that this is the start of a series, and I can’t wait to find out more of Emily (and Wendell’s) future!