Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

This was a fun one. Emily Wilde is an academic, and a bit of a type: grumpy, antisocial, deeply socially awkward and mostly unbothered about it; she is passionate about her work in the field of dryadology, which is faeries, or the Folk. Her hair is absolutely without exception a mess, even under the influence of magic. We meet her en route to do a season of fieldwork in the very remote, far northern village of Hrafnsvik, whose faeries, known as the “Hidden Ones,” are poorly documented. The research she hopes to accomplish here will complete the work of a decade or more, her Encyclopaedia of Faeries, whose publication should cement her academic reputation and finally get her out of adjunct work and into a position with tenure. (Those of you who know my personal life these days will hear me chuckle in bitter recognition.) This book takes the form of her journal entries, intended as notes for her professional work and as “record for those scholars who come after me should I be captured by the Folk.” Which, mild spoiler, she will be.

Emily arrives in Hrafnsvik with her loyal dog Shadow but fails to immediately thrive, because of her clumsiness with the locals (whose help she needs, whether she acknowledges it or not) and unfamiliarity with the climate (very cold). A few small quibbles with the novel’s consistency here: Emily is proud of her past expeditions into the field, which have ranged far and wide; she is far better with fieldwork than she is at working with other mortals. “I am used to humble accommodations and humble folks–I once slept in a farmer’s cheese shed in Andalusia.” But she’s also never started a fire (?!) and doesn’t know where to begin, and can’t figure out how to split wood (certainly an acquired skill; but her inability to jump in and begin feels like it belies an experience ‘in the field’). She is assessed as an ‘indoors type’ by a sneering local, at which she bristles but doesn’t disagree. And yet she does some massive mountain hikes in the course of her research; she estimates that her daily limit is twenty miles, and in precipitous conditions. In a word, these feel like inconsistencies in the character: is she an indoors type who is unable to light a fire? or is she an intrepid mountain hiker and experienced field researcher? (There is also a woman who mourns the loss of her husband. But then her daughter comes home to both parents.) Small details, perhaps, but they catch my brain distractingly. There is still much to love, however.

After Emily’s early struggles in Hrafnsvik, she is both assisted and further irritated by a new arrival: her colleague Wendell Bambleby. Famous, handsome, and well regarded in the field – if a bit academically lazy, in Emily’s view – he decides inexplicably to crash her fieldwork party, tidying up her lodgings, charming the locals, and generally causing trouble. (To highlight their different personalities, one of his first nights in town was “the most enjoyable evening I have spent in Hrafnsvik, as the villagers largely forgot about my existence amidst the gale-force winds of Bambleby’s personality. I was delighted to sit in the corner with my food and a book and speak to no one.”) The challenging local community, the region’s mysterious and intoxicating Folk, and Bambleby – both obnoxious and somehow appealing – combine to offer Emily chances she’s never really had before, in terms of research, friendship, and romance.

The result is funny, fun, frequently silly, and also suspenseful. Emily is definitely a type (the well-meaning but curmudgeonly professor), but still charming; her new acquaintances include mortals and faeries and at least one frightening faery king. Even Shadow, the loveable loyal hound, is more than he at first seems. I loved the worldbuilding aspect of dryadology, for example, the concept of oíche sidhe, a housekeeping faery driven mad by disorder. The device of Emily’s journal means we get appended faery tales, which was fun. While the Hrafnsvik story is neatly wrapped up, Emily’s own ends on a bit of a cliffhanger; this novel is book 1 in a series, and despite some small quibbles, I’m in for book 2.

Rating: 7 needle-fingers.

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