Review: The Wolf
It’s not often I come across a modern book that’s been written from the 3rd-person omniscient viewpoint. Especially recently. For those of you not in the know, this means the story is told from an external perspective (like a god) that knows the thoughts and feelings of all characters, knows information that a given character doesn’t know but that you the reader should, and almost always employs the use of “head-jumping”.
There are very few instances where a book written in such a way will not turn me off very quickly. For me, an experiential reader, consuming a story from the viewpoint of one character, and then suddenly finding myself experiencing the story from the viewpoint of a different character, without some kind of obvious change in the narrative (a chapter end; a break in the text to denote a change of scene) is very disorienting and immediately off-putting.
Every once in a while though, a book written in this way will come along that doesn’t completely ruin the experience of the story for me. Almost invariably, this is because the story “sticks” to a single POV for the large majority of the time. I.e., minimal head-jumping. DUNE is one that immediately comes to mind, but that was written in another era completely.
I can’t think of any others. Though, I might be guilty of having some selective cognition here.
The point is that this book is a second that succeeded for me where others have failed.
THE WOLF is author Leo Carew’s debut novel. The first of a trilogy that has apparently already been finished. Hooray for that, but why didn’t I find this book five years ago when it was first published? Blast it all. The story is told “mostly” from the perspective of two main characters, one from each of two opposing nations that inhabit the large island of Albion. Yes there are others that have minor roles, and also some temporary ones as that wicked head-jumping occurs, but by and large the focus is here.
Roper Kynortasson is essentially a prince of the Anakim, a human-like race that grows slightly taller, lives considerably longer, have bodies largely covered in bone plates, and live in a hostile and cold region of the world that would chase off any but the most hardy. He’s being raised to become the next Black Lord – ruler of their people and scourge of the Sutherners – by the current one, his father, but is still relatively young and still has some growing up to do.
Bellamus of Safinim is a Sutherner, a regional group of your everyday brand of humans who are, in comparison, shorter-lived, more populous, and generally a perpetual nuisance to the Anakim as they are constantly pushing against the borders of their lands. Theirs is a kingdom more familiar to our history, and plays a relatively small but influential part of this tale. Bellamus has made it his life’s work to study the Anakim peoples for the purpose of destroying them. To this end, he’s sought out the hand of the Queen, who has fallen for him and begun an illicit affair. Together they have laid a plan to manipulate the Sutherner King to once again attack the mighty nation of the Anakim. This time with the purpose of eradicating them for good.
The story begins in a battle that is quickly ended by the Sutherners crafty means, and leaves Roper’s father dead. In a panic, Roper calls the retreat, a decision that will return to haunt him continually during this tale. That single choice forces him to begin a battle on a much different field in order to keep his right to rule. The leader of another of the mighty houses of the Anakim, Uvoren Ymerson, has decided that the young de facto Black Lord isn’t fit to rule, and the Anakim would be better served with him in power. Between this battle and the army of the Sutherners pillaging their way across Anakim land, Roper has no time to mourn his father or to learn his new place as Black Lord. He must immediately dive into a wicked game of control, against which he seems woefully ill-prepared.
Despite a rough beginning, it doesn’t take long for this tale to get moving. Most of my difficulty there came from not knowing who the important character was due to the omniscient narrator. Once the tale hones in on Roper, it gets a lot better. I know I’m bellyaching a lot about this PoV thing. In truth, there were only a handful of instances or so where the head-jumping led to any significant confusion. And when the focus is on a single character at a time, the author does an impressively good job of developing each of the various characters and their motivations.
Part war-epic, part political power struggle, THE WOLF, elucidates a dark world full of fantastic characters and strong motivations
Pacing is on point as the plot bounces between the battles dictated by the Sutherners, at the behest of Bellamus, and the political battle from Uvoren. The book is split into three parts, detailing the passing of sequential seasons. It did feel like the beginning of the third section, Spring, lagged a bit as the changes of the past months of Winter are relayed, but it picks up again after that short reprieve.
The only real problem with this story was the lack of a solid speculative element at its core. Boiling this one down to its bones would show a tale of war and political maneuvering. Granted, it’s a very good example of such a tale. Historically though, the lack of an important speculative element has been a big sticking point for me, and after finishing this read, I just can’t justify the outcome where I’d give this book a Mediocre rating, which is exactly what I’ve done in the past. For me, the speculative elements of a story are what makes fantasy and science fiction so much fun to read. Not that I can’t enjoy normal fiction. It’s just that when I do, I frequently find myself “pining for something speculative”. And despite that fact, I absolutely loved this book.
So, because of this read, I’m going to slightly change the way I rate similar books that lack a solid speculative element at their core. Instead of handing out an automatic Mediocre rating, I’m going to just drop the rating a single notch from where I would otherwise have put it, and then slap an applicable tag onto it. You might notice that tag on this review. I would expect that the large majority of all “magical realism” I read would fall into this category, as well as stories like these where the speculative element plays such a minimal part in the grand scheme of things. I think I can live with that. That does, however, mean that I have a few previous reviews that I’ll need to update.
There. I think that’s everything that I wanted to say. This read has been quite the experience. And if it isn’t completely obvious to you by this point… I absolutely can’t wait to get into the next book.
See you on the flip side.
- Recommended Age: 16+ for violence
- Language: Very mild
- Violence: Lots of bloody war violence
- Sex: Nope