This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend. Read the full disclosure here.
Book: “A Far Wilder Magic” by Allison Saft
Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, March 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.
Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.
Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.
Review: My dad was a hunter, so I always grew up knowing what hunting season we were in by the various dead animals that we’d fine hanging in the shed. Deer, turkeys, even a coyote once or twice (usually when one was bothering my neighboring aunt and uncle’s chickens). And yet, I’ve still been the person who balled through “Fly Away Home” and can’t even think about multiple scenes in “The Fox and the Hound.” All of this to say, a fantasy novel focused on a hunt for a magical fox elicits some very conflicting feelings. But the high praise for the sweet romance was enough to sway this on onto my TBR pile.
Margaret Welty never knows when her mother will return. She understands, her mother is a famous alchemist and has a life-long mission that all but consumes her. Still, alone in a house that is falling down around her, Margaret’s life is full of chores and loneliness. That is until Wes shows up at her door hoping to become an apprentice with Margaret’s mother. Neither seem likely to get what they most want, but in Wes, Margaret sees a way forward for them both. If they kill the hala, the last magical creature in the world, the reward will likely draw Margaret’s mother home, gaining Margaret her family and Wes his teacher. But as the hunt draws nearer, Wes and Margaret begin to question what it is they really want.
So for all of my melodramatic concerns about the fox hunting in this story, when I actually got to the end of it and found myself reflecting on the story, that aspect had very little to do with it. For one thing, I really liked the mythology around the magical hala in the first place. The book explores how one mystical, barely understood creature (creatures, previous to them being exterminated) fit into a wide host of different religions. It was a great way of exploring how a religion or faith’s core beliefs or origin story can really shape the way that those who adhere to that faith move through the world. The different things they prioritize, the different things they condemn, all stemming off of a shared magical set of creatures, even though these different religions interpret and understand them differently. It was a really interesting exploration of religion that I hadn’t expected to find in a YA fantasy story.
Beyond that, however, this book had a huge focus on family and family dynamics. The biggest chunk is devoted to Margaret and the unhealthy and, really, abusive home life that has made up much of her childhood. What I liked so much about this exploration was that it didn’t outright demonize Margaret’s mother. The book explores how events in life can draw on darkness within us all, and it really comes down to the individual whether that darkness consumes them or not. But that everyone could potentially have that trigger in life that could send them down a dark spiral, making the support systems and sympathy we have to those around us all the more important. Even covering these aspects of it, the book doesn’t shy away from pointing out the harsh truths and responsibility that Margaret’s mother has for what she has inflected on her daughter.
Beyond that, the book looks at the conflicted feelings that would arise in a young woman who is beginning to open her eyes to the damage their parent has created, even while still feeling a strong sense of love and loyalty to that unhealthy parent and parental relationship. The book doesn’t sugar coat any of this, avoiding having Margaret come to some big “ah ha!” moment that immediately frees her of the guilty (however misplaced) that would come in challenging a parent in this corrosive dynamic.
Weston’s story is much more straight forward, but it, too, explores family dynamics and the balance between responsibility towards the care of one’s family and the important of following one’s dreams. The story also touches on some of the more complicated aspects of sibling relationships, and how two people who love each other so much can still be incredibly challenged to fully understand the other person’s choices and perspective on life.
I also really enjoyed the romance of this story. It was a slow-burn romance, just as I like. And, with all of these other major themes and fantasy elements, I felt like the balance of romance to story was perfect. Their relationship built up in what felt like a natural way, with various starts and stops along the way. Wes, in particular, had an interesting arch in the romance. He originally shows up as this rather flirtatious, unserious charmer whose social ease has allowed him to quickly form connections with people. But because of this, he struggles to recognize more serious feelings when they show up. Margaret’s story as someone who has learned to have low expectations of those she loves is perhaps a bit more common to see, but equally well done.
I really liked this book. I think it managed to tackle some big themes while keeping up a fast pace, introducing a new magical world, and drawing out a sweet slow-burn romance. Very well done and I recommend it to most all YA fantasy readers! All the better for it being a stand-alone book.
Rating 9: A story that explores the deep trauma of a parent/child relationship gone wrong while also maintaining its sense of wonder and beauty in a new fantasy world.