Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Review: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

Title: The Wild Girl
Author: Kate Forsyth
Published: July 7, 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books (Macmillan)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him. 

Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm. 

It is a time of War, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land. 

 Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as 'Hansel and Gretel', 'The Frog King' and 'Six Swans'. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen's father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream. Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

You probably know that I love the Kate Forsyth book I read last summer, Bitter Greens. I haven't stopped talking about it since. So I was so excited to read The Wild Girl, and experience more of Forsyth's beautiful historical retellings. And while it didn't quite get to that same level, I really enjoyed this book. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, the plot is heartbreaking and romantic, the characters are complex and likable, and the setting is engaging and dark.

The Wild Girl has Kate Forsyth's trademark writing style. This being the second book from her I have read, I can say that I am always struck by how lyrical her writing is. In The Wild Girl she continued to blow me away with her prose that is both atmospheric and dynamic. It pulls you in and immerses you into the world that she has created. It's beautiful and dark at the same time. But that also describes the plot of this book. It's not for the faint of heart. It's exceedingly depressing but I mean that in the best possible way. At times it's hard to read with some pretty graphic scenes about abuse. But just when you think it can't get any worse, Forsyth brings the story back up to a place that makes you know that hope is on the horizon. It's gritty and dark but it also has a realism that is both historically accurate and engaging.

That historical realism is another thing that struck me about this book and Forsyth's writing. In The Wild Girl, history comes alive in this incredibly well-researched book about Germany during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Forsyth perfectly captures the fear and struggle that citizens on the homefront face during the war. It does not glamorize the situation showing the harsh reality for the people who have their live upended by the war whether they are fighting or not. But the historical fiction elements go deeper than that. I love historical fiction that takes real people and reimagines their lives or allows for fictional characters to interact with real people. The Wild Girl was the former. It's also a book about the Grimm Brothers, but more importantly the women who told the brothers the stories they eventually published. I feel like I learned so much about the Grimm Brothers. Like all good historical fiction it made me question what is fact and what is fiction. Forsyth takes some liberties with the history (so she informs us in the afterword) but it all seemed so realistic and engaging at the same time. 

Part of what made this book so hard to read but so good at the same time is the characters. The secondary characters are all complex and interesting. There are some that you love and some that you love to hate. But the real star of this book both literally and within my heart, is the main character Dortchen Wild. She, in particular, is an fantastically sympathetic character. Like Tyrion Lannister I have a soft-spot in my heart for "cripples, bastards, and broken things" and throughout this novel, Dortchen is broken. She has a very tough life. But through it all she is still sympathetic and self-sacrificing. She puts others needs before her own and will suffer the consequences for her actions if those she loves are safe and happy. She really carries this book on her strength of characters and it makes the parts where she is broken down and mistreated all the more difficult. You want Dortchen to have her happy ending.

And that happy ending for Dortchen is romance. You know me, I'm so picky on my romance. But here it really did work so well. It was realistic in the best possible way and honestly combined all my favorite romance elements. It started out as a crush but it wasn't instalove, it slowly developed into something more and by the time it got to a serious level it had me hook line and sinker. But even better than that it was forbidden love in the sense that her father didn't approve and despite their desire they couldn't marry. So it was all stolen kisses and midnight rendez-vous. Like everything else in this book, the romance was difficult and I just wanted to smoosh their faces together.

On the whole I absolutely loved The Wild Girl. It took me a little longer to get through and didn't have the same all-engrossing feeling that Bitter Greens gave me. It was definitely darker and didn't have the same magical quality but it had beautiful writing, a fantastic historical setting, great characters, and a wonderful romance.

I give The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth 9.5 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. If you are looking for an adult historical retelling or historical fiction set during the Napoleonic Wars then check out this book. If you are a fan of the Grimm Brothers than I definitely recommend this book. If you read Bitter Greens and enjoyed Kate's dark and dramatic writing then pick this book up.

Have you read The Wild Girl? What did you think? Did you like it as much as Bitter Greens, more, or less? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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