REVIEW: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett
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, muddle 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.
CW – There is usually a painful often violent price that humans have to pay when involved with fairies and Em is the one who (she does this to herself for Reasons) pays it.
Dear Ms. Fawcett,
I love the background of this book. The heroine, Emily Wilde, is good at what she does and is working on what could be the magnum opus of her field – a comprehensive encyclopedia of the fae. She wants to spend one winter in a far north island off the coast of Norway to do the first academic study of the fairy folk of the area which will be the final chapter of the book. Once it’s published, Emily is a shoe-in for a tenured Dryadology position at Cambridge.
Then her glamorous, sorta rival Wendell Bambleby arrives – unasked – and proceeds to charm everyone in the small village while easing himself into the position of taking over Emily’s work and hogging the eventual credits. Things have been getting darker in the village with many of their young people being stolen by the fae and a sullen, horrible changeling being left. Can Em and Wendell figure out what is going on and fix them … without making them worse?
The worldbuilding is extensive in the story but manages to avoid the dreaded info-dumping I loathe. And yet, it also slows the read down. A lot of the information also shows how extensively Em knows her fae lore. But after a while, some of it got to be a bit much – especially in the last part of the book when Em visits another place. Yet this echoes the oral tradition of fairy stories, with intricate details, being told to a spellbound (no pun intended) audience.
Em is a socially awkward heroine after my own heart. She just doesn’t do long conversations with people she doesn’t know well, much less chit chat. One person who does manage these things effortlessly is aristocratic-ish Wendell Bambleby who is younger than Em but who has smoozed his way to a tenured position and lots of funding for field trips across Europe (which allows him to bring along grad students to cook and clean for him) but who is danger of losing his academic reputation due to some shoddy research of late. Em does not want Wendell shoehorning his way into her research or his name on her paper no matter how much this might ease her way or get her invitations to conferences. So of course he arrives, students on hand, and does exactly what Em fears.
Oh, haven’t we just all seen this in real life? The hardworking one whose efforts get co- opted by the charismatic coworker who manages to look busy without actually doing anything. Em, however, is made of stern stuff and ruthlessly rides Wendell when he needs goosing to get out and do a little work. She also manages to undo the damage that her initial social clumsiness landed her in once Wendell huffs and points this out to her, so he does have a few uses.
I loved watching Em heading out to track down whichever fae might be in the area, using scientific methods and her extensive knowledge and experience to do so. She’s intelligent and shown to be capable. Wendell, meanwhile, has his own methods which are explained later and which, for the reasons he’s doing them, make sense. Yes, Wendell is up to something which I wish hadn’t just been dropped or had been taken back up again at the end of the book. I’ll be honest and admit that I like Em because I understand her while Wendell is the type of person who makes me fume.
Along with his nonchalance in gathering information, Wendell has other habits that Em tsks about and which he doesn’t bother to hide from her. Again there are Reasons why he acts as he does but given that the book then tosses in some attempts at making the story a romance, these don’t sit well with me. The whole time Wendell is pushing his suit at Em, I’m muttering to myself “No, Em. It won’t work and you know why.” Thankfully I was pleased with how this plot thread is left.
The book ambles along, delving into a lot of description (much of which did need to be there for later use). Em saves the day, over and over, in the village. Competence, I like it. I enjoyed her journal writing – with footnotes! Then suddenly the last fourth of the book changes with Em doing something that I questioned. She has a reason but in doing this action, she seems to toss her good sense out the window and ends up needing to be saved. The way this brings the village together and shows to Em that she is valued is lovely. But I hated to see capable Em reduced less of what I had delighted in. As I mentioned earlier, I like the way the romance is left but the book could have been just left as women’s fiction and I would have been fine with it. Em does improve her social skills – a bit – but hallelujah she will never be and isn’t pushed to be a social butterfly and the villagers are fine with it.
This is another slower pace book and readers need to be aware of it going in or they might be tempted to jump ship. The winter weather is almost another character and can be brutal. The various fae are presented as being nothing more or less than who they are which can be disturbing at times. I did end up liking prickly Em and enjoyed seeing her get her recognition and am looking forward to the next book in the series. B/B-