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Book Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Book Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

From Holly Black’s Folk of the Air and Modern Faerie Tales series, to Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens and O. R. Melling’s Chronicles of Faerie, the fantasy genre is populated by thrilling and enchanting tales of fae folk. As someone who grew up surrounded by Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairy illustrations, I can’t help but be drawn to these books about faeries and folklore. Which is why Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is such a genuine treat of a novel. Following an dauntless scholar who sets off on an adventure to uncover and chronicle the secrets of elusive faeries, this is a story that wins readers over with its heart-warmingly awkward protagonist and enchanting wintry world.

The titular Emily Wilde is brilliant at a great many things when it comes to academia. A meticulous researcher and foremost expert on the study of faeries, she’s determined not to let the fact that she’s a woman hold her back from making advances in her field. But the one thing Emily isn’t good at is interacting with other people. She’s quite content with being an habitual outsider and she has no interest in making friends. But when she arrives in the remote hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik on her latest assignment, Emily’s lack of people skills starts her off on the wrong foot with the gruff townsfolk. Which is a bit of a problem when she’s relying on their hospitality and knowledge to aid her research.

Further compounding Emily’s frustration is the arrival of her charismatic colleague and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby. Both aggrieved and secretly relieved by his unexpected appearance, Emily grudgingly welcomes Wendell’s help in winning over the locals and seeking out the mysterious faeries in order to complete the encyclopaedia she’s compiling. Though Wendell’s own secrets might prove to be more useful than Emily could ever have imagined, she has no intention of letting him take the credit for her work. And she certainty has no intention of falling for his frustratingly endearing charms either.

I suppose most children fall in love with faeries at some point, but my fascination was never about magic or the granting of wishes. The Folk were of another world, with its own rules and customs—and to a child who always felt ill-suited to her own world, the lure was irresistible.”

When I first started reading Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries I was expecting an imaginative and adventure-filled story. Perhaps some light academia vibes. Maybe a touch of romance between scholarly rivals. All things I love in fantasy stories. But whilst Heather Fawcett’s journal form book has all of these things, I was still unprepared for how completely I’d fall for her offbeat characters and the playful tone of the book. Fawcett’s writing is light-hearted and fun without being fluffy. The characters are wonderfully good-humoured and forgiving, even when things aren’t going their way, and the dialogue is peppered with a wittiness that sets a smile upon your face that refuses to budge. Without a hint of melancholy, angst or existential crisis, this is the antithesis to dark academia.

As you’d expect from a fantasy story about faeries, every page of this novel is sprinkled with nature and whimsy. Fawcett’s faeries aren’t all pretty and delicate like Barker’s The Fairies of Winter – many are quite peculiar and unappealing in their descriptions – but they still share the same mischievous, elusive spirit that shines through those classic illustrations. Emily’s fascination with faeries is infectious and her devotion to her work draws readers into her unique world, which feels both familiar and unfamiliar, mixing real locations with fictional landscapes.

Emily is such a wonderfully written and fully formed character. Smart, intrepid and curious,  she could easily carry the story entirely on her own. Fortunately she doesn’t have to. With the impossibly disarming Wendell by her side, they make a formidable duo – part amusing double act, part old married couple, part young lovers yet to declare their true feelings for each other. Wendell is the perfect combination of intelligence, charm and mischief. Both easy-going and self-deprecating, his genial disposition means that he never stays moody or mad for very long. It also means that Emily can never be annoyed at him for very long either – which is obviously exasperating for someone with her curmudgeonly nature. All of this amounts to a loveable central pairing for readers to ship going into the next book (because of course a book this good needs a sequel).

See Also

Warm, witty and whimsical, Heather Fawcett’s adult fantasy novel puts a fresh spin on the faerie trope. With its snowy setting and Scandinavian atmosphere, this is a perfect book to curl up with this winter. The buoyant end promises further thrilling adventures filled with magic, fun, humour and hopefully even more of that delicious will-they-won’t-they romance. If it’s anything like this first book, it’ll be just as unmissable.


Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is published by Orbit on 19 January 2023

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