Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Representation: Secondary F/F
PoV: First-person, past-tense
Published on: 10th January 2023
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 the start of a heartwarming and enchanting new fantasy series.
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 received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~rock beats scissors, stories beat enchantments
~listen, chopping wood is hard
~beware the music that plays at night
~pockets are literally magic
~no-nonsense professor catches Feelings, oh no
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries combines a couple of my favourite tropes – books-about-books (the encyclopedia our main character Emily is putting together) and scholars studying the supernatural – so when it popped up on Netgalley, I knew I definitely had to request it. And I ended up loving it even more than I thought I would!
EWEoF actually did not make a good first impression on me, though; I was surprised to discover that the book is narrated in first-person (which I usually don’t enjoy) via Emily’s journal entries, and the setting, though fictional, is a country that feels inspired by rural Iceland, with bits and pieces of other Arctic Circle countries woven in here and there. I have nothing particularly against Iceland, but the cold, rocky, insular place Emily has come to was pretty uninviting for me as a reader – I’m a bit too familiar with that kind of environment!
But it took less than a chapter for me to fall head-over-heels for the wonderful Emily, and I ended up SO GLAD that Fawcett decided to write in first-person – Emily’s voice was what tipped EWEoF from 4.5 to a full 5 stars from me!
I have become what I am because I wish to know the unknowable. To see what no mortal has seen, to–how does Lebel put it? To peel back the carpeting of the world and tumble into the stars.
I guess I can see that some readers might find Emily a bit unlikeable at first – she’s a very no-nonsense kind of person, socially awkward, much more interested in rational thinking than emotions. Although the term is never used, as someone on the spectrum, she very much read as autistic to me – which feels a bit like an Easter egg given the speculation that the myths about changelings refer to autistic people back before autism was recognised or understood; a kind of nod from Fawcett to readers with an interest in faerie lore. (Although there’s no suggestion that Emily is a changeling herself – I don’t mean to imply that she might secretly be a faerie!) Regardless, Emily is incredibly intelligent, quick-thinking, detail-orientated, passionate about her passions (the study of faeries), and refreshingly…honest? Blunt? Self-aware? The kind of character I love to read about, and the kind of person I’d dearly enjoy being friends with in real life!
But even if you don’t like Emily right away – if hers sounds like a personality type you’re not interested in – there’s also the fact that she’s often unintentionally hilarious; that she has a surprising number of secrets that gradually reveal themselves as the story goes on; and that she has a streak of…compassion doesn’t seem like quite the right word, but when the possibility of helping others appears, she always takes it (which in turn leads to several great plot developments). And of course, there’s the undeniably adorable romantic plotline, where we get to watch this ‘curmudgeonly professor’ develop Feelings which she very much Does Not Appreciate.
What’s not to love?
Emily is only one of the many things that makes EWEoF so damn great: most of the credit has to go to Fawcett’s writing, which is simply fantastic. Fawcett has nailed that trick of addictive prose, dancing at the exact, perfect midpoint between overcomplicated and too simple, too much detail and not enough, neither drowning us in description nor denying it to us when it’s needed. It’s neat and quick and addictive, the kind of writing you can relax into; the kind that pulls you along without asking you to work hard to keep up. It makes EWEoF fun, so that there’s always a streak of light-heartedness running through the book, even when events turn, ahem, somewhat grim.
I usually prefer prose that is nearly purple with intricacy and description, but Fawcett’s is easy-to-read, hard-to-put-down, and incredibly moreish. I have no complaints!
The worldbuilding was everything I wanted; Fawcett draws from the folklore of Western Europe to establish her Fae, but the whole point of Emily’s Encyclopedia is that the Fae are different in different places, and I loved getting glimpses of, and hearing trivia about, the various kinds of faerie Emily has encountered in the past. I especially liked Emily’s encyclopedic knowledge of stories – not just general knowledge about the Fae of a given place, but the tales in which they feature. More than once, her memory for these stories proves vital, and I thought Fawcett did a good job at a) making these stories feel exactly like the ‘real’ ones I’ve read and heard, and b) showcasing Emily’s knowledge without overwhelming the reader. (Although personally, I loved getting to read the handful Emily included in her journal!)
“One doesn’t need magic if one knows enough stories.”
Hearing about the various theories scholars in Emily’s world hold about what exactly the Fae are and what their realm is like was also really interesting (and sometimes very funny), but as with all her worldbuilding, Fawcett doesn’t drown us in intricate detail. We’re given just enough to understand and follow along, and while I’m not opposed to much heavier amounts of worldbuilding, this was the perfect approach for this particular book.
I’m really impressed with how well Fawcett balanced the different aspects of EWEoF; the ‘official’ plot, the romance, the various mysteries and secrets, the character development, the side-quests…none of them overwhelmed the rest; everything had exactly as much space as it needed. The pacing in particular is marvellous, moving just fast enough that it becomes extremely difficult to extricate yourself from the story – it just sweeps you along with it! – but not too quickly for the reader to enjoy and appreciate each new reveal or development. It’s not often I compliment a book on its pacing, but it’s easy to see how this same story could have gotten bogged down and been much slower, or skimmed along too quickly, in the hands of a lesser writer.
Look, I think it says all that needs saying that I was SO RELIEVED to discover this is the start of a series (when I received my copy, it had a different description that led me to believe it was a standalone) because I am not at all ready to say goodbye to Emily, Wendell, and Shadow! I absolutely loved EWEoF – every single thing about it, or did you not notice that this review contains no critiques whatsoever? – and can’t wait to see what kind of adventures await them in future books!
Seriously, this is one book you should go into 2023 ready to pounce on!