Aspiring alchemist Weston Winters has been rejected from every apprenticeship he’s had. His last chance is with Evelyn Welty, a renowned yet reclusive master alchemist. However, when he arrives at the small countryside town of Wickdon, the only Welty he can find is Margaret, Evelyn’s cold sharpshooter daughter. Her mother has been gone for far too long, and if Margaret’s words are to be trusted, Wes has no chance of getting an apprenticeship — unless they work together to win this year’s Halfmoon Hunt, the nation’s most important hunt for the Hala, the world’s last magical creature. 

These two unlikely partners must overcome failed experiments, bigoted competition and the vicious magic of the Hala. Will they manage to win the hunt and finally gain Evelyn’s approval? Or will they discover something far deeper between them?

A Far Wilder Magic (Wednesday Books) by Allison Saft is a book that will strike a chord with younger fans of aesthetics like dark academia and dark naturalism. This novel filled my mind with images of foggy forests, decrepit Victorian mansions and luminant silver cryptids that I believe will tantalize the imaginations of the occult inclined. Saft excels at painting a vivid picture of sleepy Wickdon and the shimmering 1920s city of Dunway, making both main locations distinct and interesting.

UNIQUE CHARACTERS IN AN IMAGINATIVELY CONCEIVED WORLD

As for the characters, I found myself a huge fan of Mad, one of Wes’ sisters with a mysterious flapper style and a sarcastic way of speech. At the beginning of the book, Wes describes Mad as always putting him down and calling him selfish, but as the story goes on, we begin to see where she is coming from: Wes’ family has five kids, and their mom is wounded. From Mad’s perspective, Wes has abandoned the family to become an alchemist, but due to his failure, has forsaken them.

On the other end of the spectrum, a character that I absolutely despised was Jamie, the mayor’s son. Not only is he rich and privileged but he’s a Katharist — a practitioner of this world’s dominant religion, which, unlike other religions,  believes magical creatures were sent to punish humans. As such, he thinks he can harass and enact violence toward both Margaret, a Yu’adr woman, and Wes, whose family are Bnvishman, a New Albanian religion that is looked down upon.

At the start of the book, it seems as if Margaret and Jamie are no more than childhood rivals, but it doesn’t take long to learn the ugly truth of their adversarial relationship. Jamie hates, with a burning passion, that two non-Katharsist people dare enter the “pure” tradition of the hunt. He even goes as far as to harass a woman, Annette, to romance Wes as a ruse to sneak into Margaret’s house where he can destroy her and Wes’ work and deface the room with slurs. It’s hard to look past your hatred to truly appreciate well-written villains, but since I was gripping my tablet in anger, I think Jamie is one of the best ones yet.

A ENCHANTING SUCCESS

Even among all the other great characters, the ones who steal the show are Margaret and Wes. Wes is a man who tries to act charming to everyone he meets, but only to disguise the stress and guilt he feels for letting everyone down, especially his family. Margaret was  a girl with dreams bigger than Wickdon, but after the death of her brother and witnessing her mother’s most disturbing failed experiment, she has locked them away along with her emotions. 

The two originally despise each other, but after some time, they discover they make each other stronger and have awakened romantic feelings. Margaret helps Wes realize he isn’t a failure and his family loves him, and Wes helps Margaret stand up to her emotionally absent mother and put herself before others. 

Considering the timeline of the book, the romance may move quickly for some readers, and they may find some of the decisions Margaret and Wes make towards the ending questionable, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. Ultimately, I think A Far Wilder Magic is a wonderfully written issue, with characters easy to love and hate alike. The immersive locations draw you in, and you feel the characters’ emotions along with them. There’s something in this novel for everyone, a must-read for fans of gothic literature, natural fantasy and YA fantasy alike.

Buy this book!

Allison Saft is the author of eerie and critically acclaimed romantic fantasies, Down Comes the Night and A Far Wilder Magic. After receiving her MA in English Literature from Tulane University, she moved from the Gulf Coast to the West Coast, where she spends her time hiking the redwoods and practicing aerial silks. Allison is represented by Claire Friedman and Jessica Mileo at InkWell Management.