The ancient city of Kepos sits in an isolated valley, cut off from the outside world by a towering wall. Behind it, the souls of the dead clamour for release. Or so the priesthood says.
Kala has never had any reason to doubt their word – until her father dies in suspicious circumstances that implicate the city’s high priest. She’s determined to investigate, but she has a more immediate problem: the laws of the city require her mother to remarry straight away.
Kala’s new stepfather is a monster, but his son Leon is something altogether more dangerous: kind.
With her family fractured and the investigation putting her life in danger, the last thing Kala needs is romance. She would rather ignore Leon entirely, however difficult he makes it. But when she learns the truth of what really clamours behind the wall at the end of the valley, she faces a choice: share what she knows and jeopardise her escape, or abandon him to his fate along with the rest of the city.
If she doesn’t move fast, then no one will make it out of the valley alive.
I was given an Advance Reader Copy of The Wolf and the Water by author Josie Jaffrey in return for an honest review. I was tagged in a post about this book via Twitter and applied for an Advanced Reader Copy, I am always honoured when I’m given books for review and this was no exception. Thank you very much to Josie Jaffrey for sending me a copy of The Wolf in the Water. I hope that you find my review as good as I bragged about in my application for it!
The setting for The Wolf and the Water is based on Greek and Atlantean mythology, a setting that I believe my ignorance of, helped my enjoyment of the book. It made the world building feel imaginative as I had nothing to compare it to and no preconceptions to engage with. The ancient city in which the characters inhabit, Kepos, in surrounded by cliffs, sea and a giant wall – which the inhabitants are lead to believe separates the living from the dead – the truth of the wall unfolds to be much more sinister and dramatic than they have been told.
The plot mainly centres around a young woman named Kala and the troubles that she faces; of which there are rather a lot. The society of Kepos, in modern day terms, is a misogynistic hierarchy. Application to this in ancient, fantasy settings feels acceptable to me compared with modern standards and The Wolf and the Water handles the facts of the setting well. Women are not allowed to own property and are passed around as such themselves to a certain degree as benefits the men who marry them. There are ten families that partake in this class-based hierarchy; the Dekocrats. And all the political intrigue of the plot of The Wolf and the Water comes from the schemings of these families. How they interact with one another, prey on one another and, in some cases offer sympathy towards Kala and her tragedies all help them stand out from one another. From the devilish Lykos to the kinder-hearted Delphis.
There is a lot of content in The Wolf and the Water and Kala endures a lot of hardship. Not only is she a woman in an extremely sexist environment she is also broken. She suffered a debilitating illness at a young age that should have seen her cast out from her family. For better or worse it was due to her Father that she remained with her family in Kepos. Then her world is torn apart with his untimely death and the Lykos comes prowling into her life, hellbent on making her life even more unbearable. Many times I have felt myself resistant to lead characters like Kala. Sometimes diversity can feel forced, not only has Kala suffered due to her illness, she is also inherent of her fathers darker skin tones and has a same-sex relationship with her handmaid. I think all these things thrown together could easily be mishandled and feel like they are written for the sake of it, yet this doesn’t feel the case for The Wolf and the Water. Each of these aspects had clear, guided reasons which are individually revealed throughout the progression of the story. Not only that, Kala’s hardships make her who she is. Her troubles lend her strength and make her into a whole, well considered character that is engaging to read about and endearing to sympathise with. As The Wolf and the Water progressed I found myself rooting for her more and more. Her flaws and quirks made her feel realistic and grounded. Something that I always appreciate in books with female-lead characters.
Antagonism comes in the form of the Lykos – Nikos – who tears Kalas world apart in as many vile ways he can, but with him comes in son Leon. A cheeky, lovable rogue type of character who shakes up Kalas world as much as he compliments it. In him we find an enjoyable romantic element to an otherwise tragic story. He stirs things up a bit and gives The Wolf and the Water a bit of lightening of the mood when the plot feels a bit dour. He is as equally as believable and engaging as Kala, but in a different way. Whereas Kala is serious and carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, Leon lightens to load. I found the interactions between the two sweet and captivating. Kalas obliviousness was endearing and as a reader I wanted to root for them and push them together as much as Kalas handmaid, Melissa did.
I found Josie Jaffrey’s writing style to be easy to understand. It was clear in it’s meaning and not overly complicated – this is a compliment. However, just because the book was easy to read doesn’t mean the content was. The Wolf and the Water has a page dedicated to the trigger warnings within the content of the book, including; murder, violence, death, attempted rape, racism and ableism. While I know some readers will take exception to these and avoid The Wolf and the Water because of this content I found that it brought out the right emotions in me; anger and hatred towards those that bring these harms with them. Each of these topics are handled with sensitivity and much like Kala and her quirks, the reasons for being in the book are solid and plot driven. They aren’t included as a a sort of ‘tick-list of tragedies’ to get through. The darker events are a stark reminder that this is a grim world that the characters live in. Every romantic, cutesy scene is off-set by more sinister events. It offers a genuine balance to the novel, for which I am grateful.
As the book and plot progresses the imagination of the author comes to the fore and we are treated to a more world and society building in the form of festivities and rituals. I found these sections of the book the most captivating – I do love a good bit of world building – and I am excited to say that this is the first book in a series and while something absolutely devastating happens at the books conclusion I am eager to see where the world-building and characters go next.
There are a fair amount of characters and names in this book and I have barely touched upon them in the review. I am grateful that a Family Tree and Map are included in the beginning of the book as it gave me something to refer back to when some of the more obscure characters and places were mentioned. I think it’s a nice, personal touch to have these illustrations included in a book and it made everything feel that little bit more complete.
I think it’s safe to say that I loved this book. The main character was endearing and engaging in both her strengths and flaws. Nothing felt pushed or forced and I particularly enjoyed the character developments as the plot progressed around the main characters. I am eager to see more world and setting building in future novels in the Deluge series, of which The Wolf and the Water was the first offering. I’ll also be attempting to get more books from Josie Jaffrey in the future as her writing style ‘clicked’ with me.