Tag Archives: Sarah Monette

Book Review: A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

I don’t usually do book reviews here, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I’m not up on the latest releases — I’m always scrambling along a couple of years behind. For another, it’s just easier to put out a list of books on a theme with short descriptions for each.

But I recently read one that I loved so much that…well, I finished it and immediately flipped back to the beginning to start again. (I’ve only done that once before.) I’ve been avoiding writing this because it’s difficult to put into words why I loved it so much, but I have to try.

A Companion to Wolves coverThe book is A Companion to Wolves, by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. Both of them are solo writers as well: Bear is a prolific writer of all sorts of speculative fiction, while (to date) Monette has published one four-book fantasy series and a couple of anthologies. I haven’t read all of their stuff, but I heartily recommend both of them to anyone who will listen.

With A Companion to Wolves, they take several well-worn fantasy tropes — telepathic animal companions, small groups of magic-users living apart from regular society, young protagonist drawn to magic despite disapproval from his family, society under siege from magical beings — and twist until the tropes are fresh again.

If you love these tropes, don’t worry. They’re not warped until they’re unrecognizable; rather, they’re treated with reverence. Monette and Bear clearly love these kinds of stories too. They just want to know what makes these tropes tick, what happens when they are really, thoroughly explored.

They’re also interested in running quickly through the obvious to get to the interesting stuff. So yes, the young protagonist — Isolfr — is drawn to the magical sub-society, leaves home, bonds with the coolest animal, and faces opposition from some of his new companions who have been there longer. That’s all a given. What about the real questions that arise from this setup?

For example, the telepathic animals in question are wolves. They live in a pack, they act like wolves (as opposed to humans in wolf form), and most pertinent to the themes of the story, they mate like wolves. Without going into detail, this isn’t an easy path for their human companions to walk, especially for Isolfr, who was raised to believe that the wolf-bonded men were unnatural in their inclinations, but who can’t bear to reject the she-wolf — the “queen wolf”, destined for leadership — who has chosen him as her own.

(Don’t worry. It’s not as unnatural as you might be thinking. Remember how telepathic animal bonding stories work?)

Against these themes of coming-of-age and questioning of sexual identity, the bigger story that plays out is the society-under-siege plot. In this case, the society is more or less pre-Christian Scandinavia, if you squint, and the danger — the reason the wolf-bonded men exist — is from marauding trolls and wyverns from the north. Winter encroaches, the danger grows more grave, and Isolfr is put to the test.

But there’s more. I won’t spoil it, but this is one twisty book, with some masterful plotting and worldbuilding. As a writer myself, I wish I knew how the authors pulled off some of what they did, because wow.

Monette and Bear also do a truly fabulous job of showing the close friendships that develop among the men, making the wolves feel like wolves (and, at the same time, companions worthy of love and respect), and differentiating among a large cast of characters. Their sentence-level writing is beautiful and evocative without calling too much attention to itself — unless, say, you happen to know a little something about this stuff, in which case you might want to drink it all in on multiple levels.

A Companion to Wolves is the first in a planned trilogy. The second book is called The Tempering of Men, and I’m saving it because sadly, the third book isn’t out yet. I wish it were. I can’t wait to spend more time in this world.

WANA Friday: Reading

I’m combining two blog memes today.

First, there’s #WANAFriday, where a group of bloggers post on the same topic and share links to facilitate blog-hopping to read everyone’s takes on the subject. This week’s assignment is:

Take this first line from Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani and run with it: “This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Second, there’s WWW Wednesday, stolen from Erin Zarro (okay, it’s not Wednesday, but I’m stealing it anyway). The meme consists of three questions about what you’re reading. So here we go…

1) What book (s) are you reading right now?

I’m reading a fantasy novel called A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. I’ll have to do a proper review later, but for now I’ll just say that this is, hands-down, the best novel I’ve read this year. In fact, I just finished it last week…but I loved it so much that I started over at the beginning. I’m halfway through the second read.

(Fun fact: The only other book I’ve done that with, at least in recent years, is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.)

2) What book (s) have you finished recently?

Besides A Companion to Wolves? *grins*

  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. YA steampunk adventure story featuring an airship cabin boy, a girl scientist, and air pirates. You might recognize the author — he’s better known for Silverwing.
  • Specials by Scott Westerfeld. The third book in Westerfeld’s Uglies series (YA SF), and a most satisfying installment. More about that here.
  • The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey. A multi-stranded, lyrically written fantasy story about a harem of women exiled to the desert.

3) What books will you be reading soon?

I’ve got about 30 books on my TBR shelf (well, two of them are ebooks), but here are a few of the most likely candidates for “next up”:

    • Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear (SF)
    • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (YA fantasy)
    • Cetaganda by Lois Mcmaster Bujold (SF — Vorkosigan Saga)
    • Mainspring by Jay Lake (steampunk)

(My shelf also has plenty of adult fantasy, but I like to mix it up, and since I’m reading fantasy right now, some other subgenre will get its turn next. Probably.)

Chances are pretty good you’ll hear about one or more of these on the blog.

Other WANA Friday participants this week:

Ellen Gregory

Kim Griffin

Janice Heck

ETA: Cora Ramos

Your turn! What are you reading?

Happy Friday, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

If You Liked… A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones book coverSo you liked A Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire and you want more of the same. Certain online retail giants can give you some ideas for other books. But there are a lot of facets to the story and the world that George R. R. Martin has built. Different facets appeal to different people, and that means there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to recommendations. For this edition of “If You Liked…”, I’m going to concentrate on character preferences.

If your favourite character is…

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