Happy 2023! It is one week into the new year, and I love starting it off right with an on time ARC! Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett was one of my favorite ARCs last year (so much that I couldn’t wait to 2023 to read it!), and I can’t wait to receive my hard copy this week! Thank you, Netgalley and Random House, for this amazing opportunity!
From the Publisher:
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.
What I Loved:
- Emily and Wendell. I am a sucker for the opposites attract trope, and Fawcett does it with great love and attention. Our lead Emily is a bit cold, a bit emotionally distant, and 100% the quirky research academic. She writes down everything she sees, feels, and experiences, so we get to experience them with her. Emily is an introvert and often peeved with her endearing yet insufferable colleague Wendell. Wendell is charismatic, life of the party, and a brilliant scholar to boot. The two of them plus Emily’s dog Shadow make the perfect dueling adventuring partners, ala Andy and April. Wendell brings the entertainment while Emily brings the academic interest.
- The World Build. It was a little disconcerting to be thrown into an alternate history timeline of 1800s Scandinavia where faeries not only exist, but are intently studied and written about. However, the journal entries of Emily make the “info dump” feel natural, and once I figured out where and when we were, I was 100% committed. Faeries here come in all sorts of forms: good and evil, friendly and mischievous, hidden and living with the human world. Some interact well, and some cause endless woe. Emily, as a scholar of all faeries, has made it her mission to write the titular encyclopaedia. The best part is that we get to be a part of her process.
- The Setting. While Emily travels to all sorts of places for her research, this “leg” of her trip focuses on a small town in Scandinavia in the middle of the winter. For anyone who grew up in a small town, you’ll recognize the “flair.” This is a town that congregates at the one open bar/restaurant at the end of a hard day, who view outsiders warily but will always be welcoming until proven otherwise, and who you can always count on when you run out of firewood. Emily, for all her strengths, is not a people person, which makes her little unseasonable cabin life much harder than it should be. For the reader, however, we get to sit at home toasty warm reading about the beautiful Scandinavian snow, the forests, and a delightful port town. Makes me miss home.
What Didn’t Work as Well:
- The Pace. This seems to be the biggest complaint about Encyclopaedia, and while I found the story to be totally engrossing, it did start glacially slow. Emily records everything in her journal with loving precision, but the first 20% feels almost like a cozy mystery in how detailed that can be. And since the first part of the book lays the groundwork for Wendell to come and for the faeries to really rear their heads, it is a lot of build up. I am cautiously hopeful book 2 will be significantly faster paced now that the groundwork was laid.
That is basically the only drawback for me with Encyclopaedia. I know other readers found this to be a deal breaker (full disclosure), but if you can tough it out and let yourself get absorbed in the *atmosphere* you’ll make it through the slow bits in no time.
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was certainly mine. Who know my life was missing fantasy historical cottagecore? It is hard to come up with a comparison, but would highly recommend to adult readers who have spent their adulthood chasing the high they got from reading Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. I call this 4.5ish waves but want to give it five. Get your copy today, fresh off the presses, here and here (for Kindle).