• The Good: Sweet, cozy winter fantasy with an unlikely duo getting into fae adventures
  • The Bad: Low stakes; minimal faerie worldbuilding; may be too academic for some
  • The Literary: Epistolary structure; stories within stories sprinkled throughout

Emily Wilde prioritizes her work above all else, which is why she’s a Cambridge professor and the foremost expert on the study of faeries. In order to finish her treatise, the world’s first encyclopedia of faerie lore, she must travel to the remote village of Hrafnsvik to uncover the secrets of the elusive Hidden Ones. She lets her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby charm the townsfolk while she focuses on the field research.

I really enjoy a lot about this cozy winter fantasy, especially epistolary format, the smart and likeable characters, enchanting atmosphere, and light romance. Emily Wilde is a great female character, determined and fastidious in her research, resourceful and quite brave (especially with her dog Shadow at her side), but terrible at keeping house and engaging in small talk at parties.

Unfortunately, Emily inadvertently offends the gruff townsfolk of the small Scandinavian village, reminding her why she prefers to keep herself professionally distant from the locals—at least then she can focus. But just as she’s settling in, charismatic Wendell arrives with two student research aids in tow. Wendell is the sort of academic who uses his research assistants fully. It’s not that he doesn’t publish good work, but it lacks thoroughness.

As Emily’s research deepens, she suspects that there is more to Wendell that she initially imagined and that he may be part fae himself. Their friendship, which eventually turns lightly romantic, is based on an opposites-attract trope, and it works quite well. Written as a set of journal entries, most chapters are from Emily’s perspective, and it’s clear she’s a little jealous of how easily Wendell can talk to people, even though she thinks he’s selfish, frivolous, and a little lazy.

The setting is atmospheric, a cold, barren north of snow and chopping wood, with faeries who deal in ice. The fae are dangerous and violent, so I wish there was clearer worldbuilding, with more dangerous to Emily’s wants and needs. As it is, her research and her romance are safe in this low-stakes story.

Recommended as a cozy fantasy about an introverted academic, with a backdrop of faeries and dash of romance!