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Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

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Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

by Heather Fawcett
January 10, 2023 · Del Rey
Fantasy/Fairy Tale RomanceRomance

This Guest Review is from Brigid F. Brigid is a Queer fantasy and romance reader who believes fantasy and romance make the perfect book cocktail. She reviews at Grimdark Magazine and loves writing fantasy and romance recs for blogs and media sites. They love curses, faeries, cozy witches, and wicked characters.

Here’s the thing. I will read anything with faeries in it. I will take sexy Dungeons & Dragons style fae, but deep down, the little folkloric monstrosities are what I crave most. I, for one, hoard these books like a dragon, because the books with scarier fae often give me that mix of whimsical romance and beautiful brutality.

Have you ever searched for a book that truly reminds you of The Cruel Prince by Holly Black but adult? This is that, but the adults are more gentle, and less angsty, with each other. This story is part whimsical fantasy and part mystery and entirely absorbing.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries features a wonderful anti-social academic on a field research trip to an isolated island in Arctic Norway, where she studies the Folk (both mythical and human). Set in a tight-knit and isolated village by the sea, everything is Planet Hoth cold. The people distrust outsiders at first, but the more Emily situates herself and her nervous academic tendencies, the more they are happy to talk by the fire and drink at the local tavern, spilling secrets of the faeries in the woods.

So within the woods and ice, Emily finds her research subjects. Emily writes that her journal will provide “an honest account” of field notes for a comprehensive guidebook of faerie folk. But when Emily’s academic rival, Wendell Bambleby, arrives in Ljosland, Emily is not pleased.

Absolutely, Emily does not want her disgruntled, immaculately tailored colleague joining her in this nightmarish winter wonderland. But Wendell is the only one that can charm his way through Emily’s grumpy persona. Missing her and worrying about her at Cambridge, Wendell decides to assist Emily on the encyclopedia. She accepts his help, in part because she suspects he may actually be a faerie.

But the more faeries that come up from under the snow, the more a chilling mystery unfolds within the cottages of Ljosland. People are being taken by the high faeries into their enchanting otherworld. Emily and Wendell, academic researchers, transform into a team of Faerie detectives, solving the crimes inflicted by the Folk on the human villagers. I loved every tiny bit of it. Even more mysterious, feelings start boiling beneath frosty academic hearts.

To find the disappearing villagers, Emily and Wendell practice following the habits of the high faeries, who are bound to obey laws. Kind actions given in return for a faerie’s favor maintain the balance between the cruel judgment of the Fae world and the innocence of the human world. There are kelpies, brownies, and whimsical common cottage-dwelling Folk but there are also dangerously elegant high faerie lords, who love stealing the local villagers from their warm cottages.

Nothing annoys me more than faeries that are so beautifully mysterious and so cruel that they feel detached from emotions. I hate this because it robs me of nuanced characterization. This book, luckily, does not fall into that very overdone trap. All characters, including the faeries, felt like they had hopes, dreams, and reasons for their anger. I could feel their frustrations, even if I also recognized their very intentional ethical misjudgment.

Both Emily and Wendell felt like real, achingly imperfect characters. Their back-and-forth dry wit mixed with sweet friendship and prickly colleague mannerisms got me straight to the heart.

“You are not so terrible, Em. You merely need friends who are dragons like you.”

This book is full of perfectly witty lines. Emily, who rarely goes on outside adventures, swings an axe to chop firewood only to fail miserably, to which Wendell responds, “Good God, what a violent process.” Indeed, Wendell. But very entertaining for this reader.

Wendell is wicked, dramatic, and elegantly rude but never harsh or mean in the way I might expect a hate-to-love romantic plotline to be. Both characters have a hard time with emotions in general. For the most part, they hate everyone but each other. The joy of this is the more I read, the more clear it becomes why Wendell spends so much time around Emily.

Because I am neurodivergent, this at-times awkward, sometimes snarly relationship appeals to me more than the ones between people who understand exactly the right way to feel and how. Academic grumps they may be, but these two have a friendship that makes me wish for someone that would battle faerie assassins for me. Like many neurodivergent people, they would rather face murder faeries than their own emotions:

“I know you too well, Em. You could never survive without having someone around to snarl at.”

Everything about this frost-tipped whimsical fantasy had me waiting for the snow to fall so I could bundle up in a blanket, dreaming about prickly faeries and fresh hot buns. Did I mention the delicacies in this book? It is full of chilly delights, including iceberries and star-brewed wine. I mean it when I say this is the perfect book to summon snow for your increasingly warm winter weather.

Chilling, packed with lore, and a slow burn, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett is the type of book I’ve been looking for. Their adventure from faerie field research to two professors running like hell from a faerie nightmare kept me on the edge of my seat. Yes, sometimes the annotations (made to feel just like an academic journal) felt a bit too lengthy at times. But I found myself so in love with the voice, the characters, and the story that I really couldn’t find myself caring all that much about its faults.

This book and I? We are an absolute match.



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