Review of Allison Saft’s A Far Wilder Magic
Deep in the pines, up a muddy dirt road stretched five long miles from town, sits Welty Manor. In it, Margaret Welty is barely alive. Sure, she’s breathing and taking care of the bare necessities for existence, but she isn’t living. Every day that her mother is gone, Margaret worries if this is the time Evelyn decides not to come back. Evelyn’s a renowned, though reclusive, Alchemist and her single-minded determination to succeed in her research has driven a wedge through Margaret’s very soul.
Weston Winters is an Alchemist… or he will be one day, if he can make it through an apprenticeship without being asked to leave. After the death of his father, he’s got four sisters and his mother to provide for. Very aware of his failures, Wes holds it all together under bright smiles and a cool tongue that has a talent for bending most to his will. His last hope is an apprenticeship with Alchemist Evelyn Welty. She hasn’t replied to his letters, but when he leaves the big city of Dunway and shows up at desolate Welty Manor, he’s convinced he’ll be able to talk Evelyn into taking him on. Of course, when smooth-talking Wes arrives on the doorstep to a house only occupied by the jagged-edged Margaret, he finds her a tough nut to crack.
Allison Saft’s sophomore novel, A Far Wilder Magic, is a haunting and atmospheric read set in Wickdon, a small rural town surrounded by the roaring surf of the coastline and in the shadow of the eerie pines. In it, Saft weaves delicate prose that conjure magic through the science of alchemy. The novel’s entire plot revolves around the Halfmoon Hunt, a fox hunt with a prize that promises to make all of Wes and Margaret’s dreams come true. They are at every disadvantage, including fundamentally misunderstanding each other. However, if Maggie and Wes can learn to work together and trust each other, they might just have a shot at killing the mythically lethal Hala fox that stalks the woods, finally fulfilling their deepest desires.
Underneath the fascinating plot involving the Halfmoon Hunt, Saft deftly constructs a world that mirrors our own, in ways that are often hard to read. Both Wes and Maggie are not members of the mainstream religion of their community, a community who boldly hold true to their bigoted views and openly demonize what they call an influx of immigrants. While neither Wes or Maggie are remotely devout, it does nothing to absolve their sins of simply existing from families who worship differently than the rest of the community. They are sabotaged and targeted at every turn, but together they become twin blades forged in fire, Wes more determined than ever to change the hate of their neighbors through a heroic win in the Halfmoon Hunt.
One of the most successful and satisfying aspects of A Far Wilder Magic is the fragile love that blossoms between Wes and Maggie. The character development happening in this novel is a slow burn that steadily intensifies. No insta-love here, just hard-won understanding through tough conversations and a methodical stripping of layer after layer of protective facades, erected to mask the mutual pain they both live with every day. Readers may find themselves poised on a knife’s edge, or looking down the double-barrel of a shot gun, as they devour chapter after chapter to see if Maggie and Wes will continue to choose each other or fall prey to the traumas of their past. As the full moon draws near, and the Hala’s mischief brings the entire town to a fever pitch, Maggie and Wes face more than just discrimination and insults, as the Hala and bigots threaten their very lives.
As a reader, I found A Far Wilder Magic to be an exciting page-turner that celebrated the small moments where characters overcame their personal faults. I often feel like novels are either placed in the category of “plot-driven” or “character-driven.” To me, this book lives firmly in the sweet spot of both. Saft’s dialogue between Maggie and Wes was vividly effective. It was easy to imagine Maggie’s annoyance with Wes’s antics and often easier to see through Wes’s false mask to the soft heart hiding behind it. A Far Wilder Magic is a fantasy novel I feel most would enjoy, though one that feels closer to reality than many would care to admit.