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A Companion to Wolves    by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear order for
Companion to Wolves
by Sarah Monette
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2007)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've always enjoyed stories that featured strong animal/human bonds - from Andre Norton's early SF to Anne McCaffrey's marvelous Dragonflight series. In A Companion to Wolves, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear take us to a fantasy world (Scandinavian in flavor) where men and wolves have joined to fight a common enemy - trolls and wyverns, which come close to overwhelming the human settlements. And, as often seems to be the case in this sort of situation, there is ongoing tension and resentment between the settled folk and the wolfcarls who, along with their brother and sister wolves, fight and die to protect them.

What makes this book stand out from the pack of wolvish fantasies is that the authors explore in depth the intersection - and interaction - of human and wolf pack politics, as well as the searing impact on human sexuality of participation in wolf matings. Njall is heir to his father Lord Gunnar's estate. When Lord Hrolleif comes for the tithe of young men owed the werthreat, Njall's father banishes him to his mother's solar, but he sneaks out for a look and catches the eye of Hrolleif's trellwolf sister, Queen-wolf Vigdis. Despite the strong resistance of his father - based on stories and rumors of sexual encounters between wolfcarls (in which those bonded to female wolves take the female role), Njall follows his honor and commits himself to the wolfheall.

What follows reveals a boy making new friendships, learning quickly to bond with a powerful young creature of another species (budding queen-wolf Viradechtis), to fight and kill dire monsters as part of a team, and to accept the consequences to himself of his new sister's strong drive to mate with multiple dominant wolves. Njall, who takes the name Isolfr, also must deal with his father's contempt, based on rumors of what goes on in the wolfheall rather than on knowledge and understanding. He has to learn fast because - for the first time in living memory - a relentless army of trolls is pressing southward. The wolfjarls meet and send an expedition north to try to stop the invasion, accompanied by warriors from the settlements, including Lord Gunnar.

There are many battles, some victories and some defeats and, in the north, Isolfr and his sister discover another race fighting for survival against the trolls. Unfortunately the svartalfar despise humans and have no desire to help them. In the end, Isolfr must take a desperate gamble, to attempt to save the human settlements and their wolf allies from total destruction. A Companion to Wolves is an exciting read in a well developed fantasy world, with a couple of intriguing hooks at the end, on which I expect the authors will hang sequels.

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