Tuesday 25 July 2023

CBR15 Book 31: "Emily Wilde's Encyclopedia of Faeries" by Heather Fawcett

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

CBR15 Bingo: History (set in an alternate history, in the Victorian era)

15-word review: Introverted lady scholar goes to fictional Iceland to research faeries, followed by her handsome colleague.

Official book description (because I finished this at the start of May):
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.

Ok, first of all, anyone who picked this up because they thought it was going to be a romance was probably very disappointed. Yes, Bambleby is interested in Emily, but she's so busy trying to do her academic research and figure out what all the f*ckery that keeps happening to the local populace is caused by (well, obviously local faeries - but which ones, and why?) so she hardly notices him, except to be exasperated by his presence.

Early reviews I read for this suggested that it's set in a fictional historical Norway. While in this alternate history, the area that Emily visits may count as part of fictional Norway, it's clearly a fictional historical Iceland. Since the vast majority of readers who pick up this book probably have no idea what differentiates Norway and Iceland, or any of the Nordic countries really, it's a very silly thing to get annoyed by, but nevertheless, I want it clearly stated that the various character and place names described to us by Emily (the entire book is written as her journal, or letters to or from her) are Icelandic, because, to someone from my part of the world, it is very obvious.

With some books, I reduce my rating by the time I get around to reviewing them, but in this case, I've actually added half a star to my original rating, because this is one of those books I keep thinking about, even months after finishing it. Emily and Bambleby are both excellent characters and I loved reading about them, their banter, and their adventures in a strange culture from their own. Emily is a bit of a curmudgeon, prefers solitude and while it is never stated, is probably autistic (this is set in an alternate Victorian era so that diagnosis would not be known yet), she is a very devoted scholar and has been working on her encyclopedia for years. Bambleby is pretty much her exact opposite. He's outgoing, charming, gregarious, and makes friends easily (all of these qualities are among the things Emily seems to find extremely annoying about him. Of course, Bambleby is also Emily's only friend and just seems amused by her anti-social behaviour. 

As a consequence of being so different, the two scholars very much complement each other and make an excellent team, especially once Emily admits to herself that Bambleby's assistance may in fact be beneficial to her stay in Hrafnsvik. As I mentioned earlier, there are hints of romance here, so slow burn as to nearly be treacle in the cold, but I suspect the next book (which isn't out until January 24, boo!) will do more to develop the romantic relationship that is gently introduced in the last third or so of this book. As a huge fan of Bambleby and romance, I would have liked there to be quite a bit more of this subplot, but it would also not be in Emily's character to fall head over heels either. 

I found this whole book delightful and especially liked the various touches of folklore explored (I'm a sucker for folklore, be it actual or fictional). I can't wait to read the sequel and see where Emily and Bambleby's adventures take them next. 

Judging a book by its cover: I often tend to prefer the UK covers to the US ones, but for this book, I think the US one is my favourite. The UK cover is in a pale off-white with a lot of blueish details and looks a bit bland. The US cover has a dark background and features a lot of vines, flowers, and mushrooms that give the book the look of a slightly sinister journal - which seems a lot more appropriate for Emily than some pale tome. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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