January 10, 2023

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

By Heather Fawcett
Review by
A tale of community and chilling adventure with a dash of romance, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries explores the darker side of the fae.
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Set in the isolated backwaters of Ljosland, an alternate version of Iceland, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries follows the eponymous Dr. Wilde in her quest to investigate and catalog the Hidden Ones, mysterious faeries that inhabit the land surrounding the town of Hrafnsvik. Solitary by nature, Emily is more at home making deals with brownies to get information or tromping around the woods with her trusted canine companion, Shadow, than she is engaging in the horrors of small talk or trying to make friends. So it’s not surprising that she accidentally alienates the leader of Hrafnsvik within hours of her arrival, or that she resents the arrival of Dr. Wendell Bambleby, her friend and academic rival. But Emily’s investigation of the Fair Folk of Hrafnsvik pulls her into a dangerous quest that will upend her academic remove and challenge her inadequate social skills. A tale of community and chilling adventure with a bit of romance, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries explores the darker side of the fae. 

Author Heather Fawcett has created a world that is simultaneously cozy and threatening, allowing her to explore sentimental themes without being maudlin and delve into dark and deadly magic without dwelling for too long on its horrors. The novel’s early conflicts (spurned hosts) and their repercussions (burned breakfasts and uncooperative storytellers) are domestic, even homey. However, the narrow focus and slower pace of the front half of the novel belies the dark danger that blooms as Emily sifts through case after case of what happens when fae come too close to her temporary home. The consequences of these interactions—youths in the blush of first love who disappear for days only to reappear as husks of their former selves, or a changeling who fills his foster parents’ dreams with unspeakable horrors—make it clear that Fawcett’s fae are not the domesticated beauties of much of modern fantasy. Untrustworthy and unempathetic, coldly beautiful rather than sexy, utterly alien in terms of their motivations and goals, these are the fae of our oldest stories, as likely to curse you as they are to help you.

Full of awe-inspiring shows of power and striking moments of humanity, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is perfect for readers who love the atmospheric qualities of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and the pacing of writers like Zen Cho or Charlie N. Holmberg. Follow the lights into the woods and dance with the fae under Emily’s careful guidance—just be sure not to get carried away.

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