The Wood Wife: A quiet, intimate novel

Reposting to include Jana’s new review.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Terri Windling The Wood WifeThe Wood Wife by Terri Windling

Our heroine, Maggie, is reeling from her divorce and drifting rather aimlessly through life — she considers herself a poet but hasn’t written a poem in years.

Then, her mentor dies mysteriously — drowned in a dry creekbed — and inexplicably leaves her his house in the Southwestern desert. She moves there, hoping to research a biography of him. At first, Maggie doesn’t like the desert; it seems sterile, forbidding, devoid of charm. Then one night a pooka cuddles up to her in bed, and nothing is the same after that…

Maggie soon discovers a world of magic in the desert (and we, the readers, discover it right along with her), and digs up some fascinating secrets about her mentor’s life. And suddenly, all the pieces come together.

Both a mystery and a fantasy, The Wood Wife (1996) is gorgeously written and a good read. As a writer, I was especially moved by the discussions of whether or not Maggie was still a poet. Well done.

~Kelly Lasiter


The Wood Wife by Terri Windlingfantasy book reviews Terri Windling The Wood WifeI’m so glad The Wood Wife has been re-released as part of the Tor Essentials line. Terri Windling’s tale of poet Maggie Black and her process of gradually falling in love with the desert outside Tucson while fulfilling her duties as the executor of her late mentor’s estate is beautifully written, and the friendships Maggie forms among the people who were drawn to Davis Cooper’s orbit are as compelling and intriguing as the mystery of how Cooper managed to drown in a dry wash bed.

The Wood Wife is filled with artists, musicians, poets, animals who can shed their skins to walk amongst humans (and vice-versa), and the echoes of choices made back when a person could count Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin amongst their contemporaries. It’s a quiet, intimate novel in which adults grapple with the creative spark, dance to raucous music, go for long walks through dust-strewn canyons, argue and bargain with supernatural creatures, and try to find themselves in words and pebbles. It’s also a novel of big ideas, examining the artist’s role as creator and the ramifications of the creative act, asking if a poet who doesn’t write is still a poet, wondering if an unhappy search for greatness is better than comfort and stability. Windling doesn’t provide easy answers to the questions she asks of her characters and the reader, either.

I enjoyed this novel immensely, and not just because I, like Maggie, have used the act of digging through a box of cassette tapes as a means by which to get to know prospective friends better. Maggie’s journey resonated with me, as it did with Kelly, and her experiences in the Sonoran Desert are credibly life-changing no matter how strange it would be to wake up with a rabbit-eared woman curled up at the foot of one’s bed, to use one example. Highly recommended.

~Jana Nyman

Originally published in 1996. Tor Essentials edition published in January 2021. A Mythopoeic Fantasy Award-winning masterpiece by a nine-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife returns to print in a Tor Essentials edition. Leaving behind her fashionable West Coast life, Maggie Black comes to the Southwestern desert to pursue her passion and he dreams. Her mentor, the acclaimed poet Davis Cooper, has mysteriously died in the canyons east of Tucson, bequeathing her his estate and the mystery of his life–and death. Maggie is astonished by the power of this harsh but beautiful land and captivated by the uncommon people who call it home–especially Fox, a man unlike any she has ever known, who understands the desert’s special power. As she reads Cooper’s letters and learns the secrets of his life, Maggie comes face-to-face with the wild, ancient spirits of the desert–and discovers the hidden power at its heart, a power that will take her on a journey like no other.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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6 comments

  1. This is an amazing book. Terri Windling isn’t particularly prolific, but I think I have loved everything I have read from her.

  2. Terri WIndling has edited (and contributed to) dozens of fantasy anthologies (many with Ellen Datlow) and has won a bunch of prestigious awards for her work, so she’s a really big name in fantasy literature. I’m hoping we can review more of her work soon.

  3. I’ve read a bunch of the anthologies. If you want reviews of those, I have some ancient ones I can retool.

  4. Kelly Lasiter /

    Jana, I’m so glad you enjoyed this too! I really need to give it a reread. It’s been so long!

    • Jana Nyman /

      I read it exclusively based on the strength of your review, and I’m so glad I did. What a wonderful book!

  5. David Miley /

    Great to have this back in print. I loved it when I first read it and so wanted to see more from Ms. Windling in the same vein.

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