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Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Companion to Wolves

A Companion to Wolves
Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
305 pages

I heard about this book way back in August. I bought it (a rare thing for me), said I'd read it in September, and finally did read it during my vacation in November. When I bought it, I was craving some fantasy since I'd been away from that genre for way too long. But I got bogged down with books I'd committed to review and the time just passed quickly by. I'm so glad that I brought it on vacation though!

*** The Plot & Setting ***

Since this is Fantasy, I have to give a bit more background than usual.

Iskryne is on an Earth-like world in a Norse-like country during a medieval-like time. People live in towns governed and protected by a strong family, headed by a "jarl" or lord. The jarls in turn rely on the wolfhealls to protect them from attacks by trolls. The wolfhealls are home to men who are bonded with large wolves; their job is to provide protection for all the "wolfless people" by keeping the trolls at bay.

Our hero, Isolfr, is the son of a jarl who leaves his father's home to become bonded with a wolf. Dear old dad objects for a variety of reasons, including his belief that the men of the wolfhealls are homosexual. Regardless, Isolfr goes to the wolfheall where he bonds with a powerful female wolf who is destined to lead her own pack. The story revolves around Isolfr's experiences in the wolfheall and the worsening war with the trolls.

*** My Thoughts ***

I really enjoyed this book. First off, it satisfied my craving for some good Fantasy and that's always a good thing. But it's more than that - the story was really quite good. I didn't want it to end, and I'm very much hoping that the authors will write another book set in this world (even though this is a stand-alone novel).

*** Fascinating? Disturbing? Depends on who you ask. ***

The bond between the wolves and men has been described by other reviewers as Pern-like (referring to the world created by one of my favorite authors, Anne McCaffery); that's enough reason there for me to read it. As in the Pern books, the bond between man and beast runs very deep. Emotions, desires, needs, flow back and forth between the pair. In both books this leads to rather interesting results when mating season comes around. Monette/Bear take a different twist on this than McCaffery did though, as wolves are only bonded to men. That's where the homosexuality comes into play.

Personally I loved the way this played out in the book. It was quite different than anything I'd read before and that is hard to do in Fantasy (at least, it's often hard to be original and GOOD at the same time!) However I know that there are many who would find these portions of the book objectionable, either because of the homosexuality or because of the sexual descriptions. This does NOT read like erotica, nor are the sex scenes very long. But they are an integral part of the plot development and important to the story itself.

*** Complaints ***

There were two things that I did not like about this book.

First - the names. I know, I know, it's supposed to be set in a Norse-like country but WHY does everyone's names have to be similar? And the young boys all change their names when they are bonded to wolves. It's supposed to signify leaving their old life behind, and it WORKS for that, but it also confused the heck out of me.

Second - character development is lacking in the supporting characters. The focus of the story is Isolfr but I would really have enjoyed learning more about the other characters. It would also have helped with the naming confusion; if the people had more personality and history I don't think I'd have confused them so often.

Neither of these things were that bad though, and I'd still recommend this book. Hopefully there will be more books set in Iskryne eventually - I'd love to revisit this fascinating world.

*** Other reviews ***

Fantasy Cafe - this review is the reason I read this book
Fantasy Book Critic
OF Blog
All Booked Up

Have you read it? I'd love to add your review here.

Does this book peak your interest? What say you?


Kristen said...

I agree with both what you liked and what you disliked about this one. It was a good story, but the characters other than Isolfr were difficult to keep track of at times since their names were similar and they weren't particularly well fleshed out characters. Although the new names made sense in the context of the story it did make it really difficult to keep track of people.

I love Isolfr and his wolf though!

According to Elizabeth Bear's site there may be a sequel or two to this one someday (it's the very last sentence on that page). There is also the story of how she and Sarah Monette started writing the story which is rather interesting.

Serena said...

Hey there, noticed you were interested in signing up for the 2009 war challenge. Please feel free to snag a button from the blog for a post or sidebar here:

Also, we need you to come back to the official sign up page and state your reading goal, which needs to be a minimum of 5, if you want to be considered for the end-of-year prizes; here's the official sign-up page:

Great to have you on board and thanks for the posts.

Elena said...

I've read the book, back in August/September. While I thought it was a good enough read (it kept me up late reading, anyway), I did find myself somewhat uncomfortable with the content.

My review

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