The Will and the Wilds is a fantasy romance novel by Charlie N. Holmberg. Holmberg has been fairly prolific in the last 6 or 7 years since she hit the scene, penning the popular Paper Magician series and the more recent Numina series. I have read the first entry in the Numina series, but that was my only prior exposure to Holmberg. The Paper Magician books have been on my TBR shelf for a while, but I haven’t gotten around to them yet. When I saw Will and the Wilds on the various “coming soon” lists, I thought it sounded interesting so I bought it and am just getting around to reading a few months later.
The Will and the Wilds finds a land where monsters called mystings linger in the wildwood beyond the village, threatening the townspeople. Our main character, Enna, is one of the few who engages in the kind of rituals and magic that might get her ostracized if the other townspeople were to find out. Enna’s willingness to strike a deal with a mysting to help protect herself and her father leads to trouble after the deal goes awry.
My first impression when I began reading is that The Will and the Wiilds has a style and story reminiscent of Naomi Novik’s recent works like Uprooted and Spinning Silver. This is pretty high praise coming from me. Novik’s recent works have established her as one of my favorites and Holmberg here manages to establish the same kind of tense woodlands atmosphere that makes you want to keep reading. The blend of fantasy and romance is in just about the right proportion for me. I am, admittedly, not usually a fan of straightaway romance, but when it’s a part of the story, rather than the whole story, I think it can be an incredibly powerful lens through which to view the character motivations and development.
There are definite Beauty and the Beast tropes abound here. While Enna is initially fearful of the mysting named Maekalluss and reluctant to strike a deal with him, they begin to share a bond when linked together through circumstance. The story mostly manages to avoid throwing itself headfirst into an unearned romance. There’s a lot of legitimate reluctance about Maekalluss on Enna’s part. I’m willing to forgive some of the more eye-roll worthy moments that do pass, because they were part of a well crafted world and an pretty engrossing narrative. The tropes are there, but they exist on a solid foundation of fantasy.
As the story progresses, Enna begins to learn more about her past and her power. She’s forced to grapple with the ethics of her decisions as it pertains to not only Maekalluss, but every other aspect of her life. Holmberg helps build the stakes of the story here, by adding a level of responsibility for Enna, taking the story beyond just a simple romance. It really is quite effective story-telling. There are a number of times when reading when I found myself genuinely questioning how Enna was going to react in the given situation, a sign that Holmberg has thrown some weighty problems her way.
The Will and the Wilds mostly succeeds as both a fantasy tale and romance. Fans of either genre are likely to find something that keeps them turning the pages. As an added bonus for those who have Kindle Unlimited, not only is the book free to read, but the audio-book is available as part of the program, as well. I look forward to reading more Charlie N. Holmberg. My conviction to get around to The Paper Magician series has only strengthened after my experience with The Will and the Wilds.