For The Throne: Hannah Whitten’s Dark and Thrilling Wilderwood Saga Sticks the Landing

Books Reviews Hannah Whitten
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<i>For The Throne</i>: Hannah Whitten&#8217;s Dark and Thrilling Wilderwood Saga Sticks the Landing

Hannah Whitten’s debut For the Wolf was one of the best fantasy novels of 2021: Part folklore, part horror story, and part fairytale that mixed elements from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Snow White” into something that felt fresh and new despite its deeply familiar bones.

In its sequel For the Throne, Whitten crafts a thrilling finale, with bigger stakes, more sweeping emotions, and more dramatic twists than its predecessor, all ultimately grounded in the complicated, but unshakeable bond between two sisters and the world they may or may not be destined to save.

In the kingdom of Valleyda, the First Daughter is for the Throne and the Second Daughter is for the Wolf. First Daughter Neverah is born to inherit her mother’s throne and has spent her life in preparation for the moment of her ascension. Her twin, Second Daughter Redarys, is for the Wolf, the first of her kind born in a hundred years, and was essentially raised knowing her duty was to die, serving as a living sacrifice to the magical Wilderwood that holds back the monsters of the Shadowlands.

But where For the Wolf focused primarily on Redarys’s journey into the Wilderwood and her slow-burn love story with Eammon, the titular Wolf of the forest, For the Throne follows the story of her sister Neve’s journey through the Shadowlands, the dark inversion of the golden magical forest above and a terrifying place populated by bones, dying gods, and the villainous Five Kings, semi-immortal murderous despots who long return to the real world and reclaim their powers.

In For the Wolf, Neve is presented as something of a villain—-not in the strictest evil queen sense, but certainly, as someone whose determination to save her sister from a fate she both fears and distrusts causes her to make some dark choices. In For the Throne, Neve must answer for many of those decisions, and we’re allowed to see her POV evolve over the course of the story, as she essentially grows into her own power in much the way Red does in the first book.

Her character gets all the development and emotional shading in For the Throne that it lacked in its predecessor and though those of us who are quite firmly Team Red may still be a bit reluctant to forgive some of Neve’s worst decisions, at least her behavior is a great deal more understandable here than its ever been before.

In order to escape the Shadowlands, Neve will have to bring herself to work with Solmir, the rogue former King who believes she is the key to the realm’s destruction. (So much so that he killed her betrothed in order to impersonate him and manipulate her, not the greatest start for any kind of relationship no matter how smoking their chemistry might be.) Their journey together involves many unexpected twists and turns, and will thoroughly delight any reader who loves a good, dark enemies-to-lovers romance. (The couple that murders old gods together stays together I guess?)

But the real love story in this series is—and truly has always been—between sisters Red and Neve, who have each made terrible mistakes and done horrible things in the name of saving or protecting or otherwise controlling the other, and it is this bond around which the crux of this story truly turns. The pair’s determination to find their way back to one another is thrilling, as is the apparently bottomless lengths they’ll go to for one another.

A theme throughout this series thus far has been the mirroring between the sisters, and the literal and figurative ways that each of their journies reflects and informs the other. (One light, one dark. One for the Wolf, one for the Throne.) And yes, there are moments where the book leans a little too hard into telling us how much Neve and Red’s stories are more alike than not, but the relationship between the twins is strong enough to paper over a lot of cracks. Their bond is both relatable and realistic, and it’s to Whitten’s credit that I really wasn’t sure what either would choose to do—sacrifice the other, sacrifice themselves, sacrifice the world entire—at the end of the story until the book’s very last pages.

It’s hard to believe that this Wilderwood duology is Whitten’s debut series; as an author, she has the confident voice, lush prose, and creative flourishes of a writer that’s been in this business much longer than she actually has. Her intricate worldbuilding brings the realm of the Shadowlands to vivid, occasionally horrifying life, complete with its complex hierarchy of Old Gods, both living and dead, along with their different consorts and mutant-esque children known as “lesser beasts”.

The Wilderwood—now contained within both Eammon and Red—remains as alien, magical, and beautifully unknowable as ever. And the dash of Valleydan politics thrown on top with the insertion of Neve’s childhood love Raffe as a POV character and the introduction of Kayu, a third-born princess from a neighboring kingdom who is also technically Neve’s heir, offers a necessary perspective of the ways that the sisters’ choices have played out on a wider world stage.

A beautifully balanced tale of love in many forms, For the Throne is not just a satisfying conclusion to the story that began in For the Wolf, but a bittersweet reminder that in real stories, happily ever after doesn’t exist, and it’s up to us to muddle through the best we can and try to make a future with the people we love. I can’t wait to see what Whitten does next.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.