Book Review: The Wise and the Wicked
The Wise and the Wicked
Written by Rebecca Podos
Published by HarperCollins/ Balzer + Bray
Publication date: 28th May 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
Ruby Chernyavsky has been told the stories since she was a child: The women in her family, once possessed of great magical abilities to remake lives and stave off death itself, were forced to flee their Russian home for America in order to escape the fearful men who sought to destroy them. Such has it always been, Ruby’s been told, for powerful women. Today, these stories seem no more real to Ruby than folktales, except for the smallest bit of power left in their blood: when each of them comes of age, she will have a vision of who she will be when she dies—a destiny as inescapable as it is inevitable. Ruby is no exception, and neither is her mother, although she ran from her fate years ago, abandoning Ruby and her sisters. It’s a fool’s errand, because they all know the truth: there is no escaping one’s Time.
Until Ruby’s great-aunt Polina passes away, and, for the first time, a Chernyavsky’s death does not match her vision. Suddenly, things Ruby never thought she’d be allowed to hope for—life, love, time—seem possible. But as she and her cousin Cece begin to dig into the family’s history to find out whether they, too, can change their fates, they learn that nothing comes without a cost. Especially not hope.
By day, they were the kind of people who seemed to belong in the house on Stone Road. Ruby went to school while her sisters worked the part-time jobs they could get without college degrees, scrambling to save for Ruby’s own (ultimately pointless) college fund. Ginger was an office assistant at a feed store, while Dahlia currently worked at ’Wiches and Wings, a butterfly conservatory and sandwich shop in one.
And then some nights, rare but constant for the last few years, they were different people altogether. Polina would come with a client, or one would follow. Always women, always in dark plain clothing, in stained pants and with no jewelry or lipstick. Often, their cars had out-of-state plates. They looked desperate, as though they would have walked through the woods all night to get here, if necessary. Ruby wasn’t sure how clients actually found Polina, or where Polina found them. Nor was she completely sure what went on after she was sent to her room, but she knew enough.
Her sisters, with Polina’s guidance, did what their ancestors had always done. They helped people.
They welcomed them into this unextraordinary little house, listened to them, counseled them with the gift that remained to the Chernyavskys: the empathetic, righteous rage of women who knew what it meant to have everything taken away from them.
First impressions: I was immediately caught by the title, then knew that I had to read this after seeing the stunning cover and reading the blurb. Anything with folklore and magic is something I am eager to read!
I was so excited to get my hands on an e-ARC of this book, as the UK release date has still not been decided but the summary just sounds like perfection!
At first, I struggled a little with all of the names and the different characters, but before long I was racing through this. The prologue reads almost like the introduction to a fairytale and I loved the idea that the story could be very different depending on who is telling the story. Ruby has grown up being told that her family fled Russia because of being hunted for their powers, powers which have now weakened as they suppress them to keep themselves safe.
The family is predominantly women, with men seeming to appear for only long enough to father a daughter. At some point in their teenage years all of the girls have a vision in which they see their Time; they might not see their own death but they see themselves at the age they will die. Ruby has been taught that there is no way to avoid your Time and has accepted that her life will never become much of anything.
Yet, when her great aunt Polina dies at 95 years old, her actual death does not match what has been recorded as her Time in the family’s book of records, for the first time in known history. In trying to find out why and with the glimmering possibility of changing her own or her beloved cousin Cece’s time, Ruby discovers that the secrets her family are keeping run far deeper and colder than she had ever imagined.
Ruby is a realistic character and I loved seeing how her relationships with all those around her began to develop, especially in light of the fact that she starts the book resigned to the fate that she has seen in her vision of her Time. The gradual flowering of hope and disbelief as she digs down into her family history was almost painful to watch as she begins to wish for more and lets people around her get closer…but always with the knowledge of her Time overshadowing everything.
Dov was another favourite character even before his backstory is revealed, and I liked how down-to-earth he and Ruby are when discussing this past and what it means for them as they tentatively begin to explore a relationship. Dov’s family dynamic also challenges you as the reader to think about good and evil and how multi-faceted people and their decisions can be.
In reading this I was transported into a world very much like our own, but with an undercurrent of magic running through it, where folktales and fairytales become family history and choices are shaped by ancestral memory.
Immersive, thought-provoking and magical, this is one not to be missed!
When you knew your expiration date—or near enough—you knew what to expect out of life, what to hope for, and what not to hope for. As Polina had said, you knew who you would be, and so you knew who you were. Maybe it wasn’t the death you would have picked, or the years you would have asked for, but you made peace with your Time. You looked it in the face, and you were stronger for doing so. You certainly didn’t run from it. As if you even could.
Ruby’s first instinct had been right, of that she was certain; the story meant something. Fairy tales weren’t just important to her family, they were history. They were legacy. And this one had made its way from Polina to Evelina to Annie, falling into Cece’s and Ruby’s hands years later. Like the Chernyavskys, it, too, was trying its hardest to survive. There must be a reason for that.
And then there was Polina’s inscription. Remember this, Evelina: if time is a prize you want to win, you must prepare to lose. Time was exactly what she was after. She’d felt a secret clock ticking inside of her since she was thirteen, but what if it could be stopped? According to stories, the Chernyavskys had been powerful enough to do just that, once. And if Ruby could be strong enough—and smart enough—then she could save herself and Cece, too. She could take back what belonged to her, because judging by Polina’s thwarted fate, it had never truly been abandoned. And there was nothing she wasn’t prepared to risk to find it. She didn’t have much to lose in the first place.
What I liked: Ruby and Cece’s relationship, Ruby’s sisters and how so much character was denoted by just a few lines, the influences of folklore and fairytales, Dov as a love interest and how sweet he is!
Even better if: I think that this is meant to be a stand-alone, but the ending seemed very much like it could be setting up for a sequel! I would love it if there were to be a second book!
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great addition to any library catering for readers of teenage or fantasy books. Sections of this book could be used to spark discussions about the importance of family, the experience of immigrants, sexuality and transgender issues, etc.
What did other people think?
“An enigmatic tale that feels as powerful and lush as the old-magic stories told by its characters, The Wise and the Wicked is an intoxicating ode to family, to first love, to storytelling. Podos’s complex characters and evocative prose weave a tantalizing spell, one in which I was all too happy to be ensnared.”
—Claire Legrand, New York Times bestselling author of Furyborn
“Podos uses the simple premise of foreseeing one’s own death to weave a fast-paced, nuanced study of good and evil …
A page-turning mixture of magic, suspense, and queer romance that keeps readers enthralled.”
“Podos explores how family histories get twisted over time and how ancestral trauma, particularly among immigrant families, resonates among younger generations in surprising ways … this story ostensibly about magic, witches, and family rivalries packs unexpected depth, which is only enhanced by a compelling cast of nicely multifaceted characters and two refreshingly matter-of-fact queer romances.”
Don’t miss the other stops on this blog tour:
The Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club – Welcome Post
Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Playlist
The Book Return – Review
BookCrushin – Guest Post
Utopia State of Mind – Review + Favourite Quotes
Here’s to Happy Endings – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Layaway Dragon – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Clever Reader – Interview
Kait Plus Books – Guest Post
Some Books & Ramblings – Review
A Daydreamer’s Thoughts – Interview
@wewhotellstories – Review + Playlist
About the Author
(Thank you to HarperCollins/ Balzer+Bray and Netgalley for my e-ARC. Thank you to FFBC for inviting me to be part of the blog tour!)
Thanks for reading!