Njall had heard stories about the werthreat and the trellwolves all his life, when he was a little boy, his nurse had threatened him that if he wasn’t good, his father would tithe him to the wolfheall. Everyone knew the men of the wolfheall were half-wolf themselves, dark and violent in their passions, that they drank the blood of their fallen enemies and nursed from the teats of their she-wolves. No decent man, said Niall’s father, wanted anything to do with them.
I want to tell you about this book and at the same time, don’t want to. It’s not the easiest thing to describe, this relationship between men and wolves, their brotherhood and sisterhood. And it gets confusing, with all the many terms in their world, wolfjarl, konigenwolf, svartalfar etc.
Then there are so very many names of the different men and wolves of the wolfhealls, and there are several wolfhealls who meet occasionally. It is confusing at times, especially when a minor character is mentioned and I am not sure who he is. It doesn’t help that the men (boys really) take on a new name when they are bonded with a wolf.
So it took me a while to read this book. Every now and then I had to come up for air and take a break, for it is intense and complex yet immersive and captivating.
Njall is a young man who joins the wolfheall and who later bonds with a wolf, a female wolf. They become ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. He takes on the name Isolfr. Viradechtis is the wolf’s name and she is to later become konigenwolf or chief of the wolf pack. It’s interesting how men and wolves communicate, using smells and imagery, and the sense of the wolfpack. It’s hard to explain completely but the wolves kind of shape the pack, both wolf and human. It is the konigenwolf (kind of like the chief wolf) who chooses her own mate, whose human ‘brother’ then becomes second in charge of the men of the wolfheall. And yes, the choosing does include mating among the wolves. The men too are driven by similar sexual urges and find some ‘relief’ among themselves.
A Companion to Wolves is a chilly kind of read. Something that seems suited for reading by a fireplace. It has elements of Nordic culture and myth. There’s plenty of snow and ice. But also plenty of fighting and action, if that is your thing. For me, I was intrigued by the politics of the wolfheall, by the way the wolfless perceived these wolfjarls.
The second book in the series is called The Tempering of Men. The third book, An Apprentice to Elves, will be released in October.
It took me about a week to read this, and at the same time I was reading Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.
I am a reader who often has several books going at the same time. Usually it is a fiction, a non-fiction, a graphic novel or two.
It is rare that it is two fantasy books together. Probably because of all that world-building. And it was a rather odd sensation, as they would sometimes merge and flow together in my mind.
Yet, Uprooted has no wolves.
Well, it has creatures and a Dragon who is not a dragon but a man of magic with a reputation. And it has the all-powerful, evil Wood which corrupts, which kidnaps people, takes over villages.
Novak brings so many fairytale elements into her story. There is a Beauty and the Beast type narrative when the Dragon chooses Agnieszka from among the 17-year-old girls in the villages as his servant. An unusual choice as everyone has known, pretty much all their lives, that he would choose Agnieszka’s best friend, the beautiful and skillful Kasia. But Agnieszka has something that Kasia doesn’t. She has magic in her blood and under the kingdom’s laws, she has to be given magical training.
At first it doesn’t seem like much happens. She’s whisked away into the tower, she has to cook his meals and be mocked by the man. And he is a mean, arrogant one. Or at least he seems so at first.
“You village girls are all tedious at the beginning, more or less, but you’re proving a truly remarkable paragon of incompetence.”
They begin with cantrips or easy little spells like changing her poor home cooked food into something else, changing her dresses from homespun into elaborate gowns. It really is quite hilarious. He really likes things to be all pretty and nice.
I wanted him to be bitterly annoyed every time he looked at me, and he rewarded me with every incredulous scowl. “How do you do this to yourself?” he asked me, almost marveling, one day when I wandered in with a clump of rice pudding on top of my head – I had accidentally hit a spoon with my elbow and flung some into the air – and a huge red streak of jam going all the way down my front of beautiful cream silk.”
But Agnieszka begins to come into her own form of magic, she begins to blossom and take her magic to a different level.
And she really does need that training as the Wood is always lurking, always looming, always dark and secretive. Before long, it comes calling and Agnieszka begins to understand the magic within her.
I hate to be so vague but you really ought to read the book and figure it out. It is full of adventure and bravery and more importantly, friendship. It is a tale of the friendship of Agnieszka and Kasia.
I have to tell you here how much I adored Agnieszka. Her stubborness, her determination, her always managing to frustrate and confound the Dragon. And even her kind of magic which is more instinctual than academic.
Then the way that Novik plots this story. It is exciting. It was one of the most exciting reads for me this year. Before this, I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel the urge to stay up just to finish a book. For this you should understand that I am very good at self-control. I am the kind of person who can make a box of chocolates last for a long time although I am mad about chocolate. I am the kind of reader who notes the time, closes the book and goes to sleep. I’m really not the reader who stays up half the night just to finish reading a book. So for me to want to stay up, to read and read and read with a breathless urgency to know what happened, to glance at the number of pages left on the 3M app on my Nexus, then think, crap I have to finish reading this no matter what. That is a solidly unputdownable read. Dang it, I really hate using ‘unputdownable’ but it was unputdownable!
At a point I wondered, wait, is this a series? Is Novik going to leave me on a cliffhanger? Am I going to be banging my head on my e-reader in agony knowing that the next book is going to be published another year from now?
Well, no, thankfully.
And thank you Naomi Novik for writing Uprooted. Guess I have to go read her Temeraire series now.
By the way, these three women are new-to-me authors and I am so looking forward to reading the rest of their works.
The Jenny Casey trilogy
The Promethean Age
Blood and Iron
Whiskey and Water
The Stratford Man:
Volume I: Ink and Steel
Volume II: Hell and Earth
One Eyed Jack
Jacob’s Ladder trilogy
The Edda of Burdens
All the Windwracked Stars
By the Mountain Bound
The Sea thy Mistress
The Iskryne series
A Companion to Wolves, co-written with Sarah Monette
The Tempering of Men, co-written with Sarah Monette
An Apprentice to Elves, co-written with Sarah Monette
New Amsterdam series
Seven for a Secret (novella)
The White City (novella)
Ad Eternum (novella)
Eternal Sky Trilogy
Range of Ghosts
Steles of the Sky
Bone and Jewel Creatures (novella)
Short story collections
The Chains That You Refuse
Shoggoths in Bloom
Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison
The Doctrine of Labyrinths series
A Companion to Wolves [with Elizabeth Bear]
An Apprentice to Elves [with Elizabeth Bear]
As Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor
Temeraire (Published in the US as His Majesty’s Dragon)
Throne of Jade
Black Powder War
Empire of Ivory
Victory of Eagles
Tongues of Serpents
Crucible of Gold
Blood of Tyrants
League of Dragons (forthcoming, 2016)