Diary of a Dryadologist: Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands by Heather Fawcett

A year after Heather Fawcett’s first Emily Wilde book was published, we’re treated with a sequel, Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands

Like its predecessor, Otherlands is an epistolary novel set in the early twentieth century where faeries are commonplace but far from fully understood. Dryadologist Emily Wilde’s vocation is to learn as much as she can about the mysterious Folk, and we catch up with her once again via her journal, of which we are surreptitious readers. Her research has moved on from the now-published Encyclopaedia of Fairies (which is also, of course, the name of the first book in Fawcett’s series) and she is now ostensibly working on a map of the different faerie realms, or Otherlands (which is, you likely noticed, the source for the title of the sequel).

As her entries reveal, however, she’s really more intent on helping her colleague Wendell—a banished Fae monarch who is fronting as a human professor in the dryadology department—discover a back door into his land in South Ireland. Perhaps she’s more focused on that effort because she’s now tenured. Or perhaps it’s because Wendell proposed and professed his love to her in the first book, and she’s harboring feelings for him as well, as much as she tries to dismiss them.

Whatever the reason (it’s a question that Emily doesn’t even deign to explore, even in a footnote), she’s intent on helping Wendell get back home so he can overthrow his stepmother, who took the throne after she killed everyone else in Wendell’s family and exiled him to the dreary realm where humanity resides. To make matters even more dire for Wendell, his stepmother is also now apparently keen on killing him, something she didn’t pursue before because Folk custom dictates that one in power must leave one person alive who could theoretically overthrow them. 

Why the stepmother has decided to assassinate Wendell is one of the many mysteries that unfold in Map of the Otherlands, and a question that Emily does determinedly interrogate even as magical monsters hunt them down on campus and elsewhere. Another mystery includes the circumstances surrounding a dryadologist named Danielle de Grey who went missing over fifty years ago, and a man who keeps appearing in front of Emily covered in ribbons and spouting cryptic messages at her. 

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Emily Wilde's Map of the Otherlands
Emily Wilde's Map of the Otherlands

Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands

Heather Fawcett

These mysteries are entwined with Emily’s quest to help Wendell find a way back to his home. And while Emily would prefer to set off on an expedition to do just that solely with Wendell and her beloved Hound of Death, Shadow, she finds two others joining her, much to her chagrin: her niece, Ariadne, who Emily begrudgingly writes is an apt student, and the Department Head, Dr. Farris Rose, a man who clashes with Emily but comes along once he uncovers that Wendell is, in fact, not human. The expansion of Emily’s circle is a welcome one (although she herself resolutely expounds in the pages of her journal how trying they both are). From a narrative perspective, both are also not additions without purpose; they not only serve as foils to show us different sides of Emily and the world the series is set in, but also have their own arcs that invite further exploration in subsequent novels.

And then of course, there’s the susurrus of romantic tension with Wendell that even Emily can’t keep out of her writing. She was quite taken aback by Wendell’s proposal in the first book (and here’s where I’ll that I strongly suggest you read Encyclopaedia of Fairies before picking a Map of the Otherlands up), and she has yet to give him an answer, not only because she doesn’t confront her own feelings about him, but because, in her own words, marriage is “a pointless business, at best a distraction from my work and at worst a very large distraction from my work coupled with a lifetime of tedious social obligations.”

If someone asked me to describe Emily Wilde’s personality, I would simply direct them to the line above. Emily is a scholar—as passionate, skilled, and dedicated to learning all she can about the Folk as she is uncomfortable and inept at navigating social situations. She is also unbending in the face of apparently insurmountable odds and not afraid to write a footnote or three as she describes events as they unfold in this tale. And while she is far from a romantic, as later scenes of déshabillé with Wendell make clear, its these traits of Emily’s that make the series such a joy for many reader (along with, of course, the magical faeries that she, as a dryadologist, vigorously researches via dangerous expeditions). 

Like all good second novels in a series, Map of the Otherlands expands on the world laid out in the first while also giving the characters we’ve come to know more depth and complexity. We learn more about Emily as she learns to let people into her life, albeit seemingly reluctantly. We also get to see the sides of other characters as well, no small feat given the constraints of having the story unfold solely through Emily writing the course of events down in her journal (although Wendell helps with this tremendously by jotting in his own entry at one point). And, without giving too much away, we also spend time with Folk, old and new, and have another perilous journey into Fae. It’s an adventurous tale, and—dare I say it—a cozy one, even though it contains a severed foot that serves as a compass and sculptures on a fireplace mantel made from human fingers and toes.

The end of the book resolves much of the mysteries outlined above, but it also tees up a healthy dose of intrigue for potential events in the planned third installment in the series, which Goodreads tells me is due to come out in 2025 and has the title, Emily Wilde’s Compendium of Lost Tales. I, for one, will be waiting and ready for whenever another volume of Emily’s journals makes its way into my eager hands. icon-paragraph-end

Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands is published by Del Rey.

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