Thistle (thistle_chaser) wrote,

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Book #14 of 2016: A Companion to Wolves

A Companion to Wolves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

(Well, this cover is a surprise. I couldn't see it at all on my Kindle -- black and white, less than an inch tall.)

Something happened in this book series that's unique to my reading experience: I started reading the second book already, and information in that book shed light on something in the first book, changing things in a way that really chilled some of my enjoyment of part of the first book.

But let's start at the beginning: This book is set on a fantasy world. Like Earth, but not Earth. There are trolls and elves, and the wolves of the world are giant (the size of a small horse) and can psychically bond to people. The story follows a boy who is taken by the wolf men, and ends up bonded to a "konigenwolf" (queen wolf -- alpha female). We learn about the whole wolf system though his eyes, and through the book the boy grows into a man.

One of the biggest hurdles for me was the proper nouns in the book. Here's a short section:

Hrolleif had taken him, with Vigdis and Viradechtis in eager companionship, on a long patrol east of Nithogsfjoll. Older wolfheofodmenn did mentor the younger ones, as Ulfgeirr the housecarl mentored Sokkolfr--tactic acknowledgement that Sokkolfr would be a steward in his turn...

There was a Nordic-ish, German-ish word for everything, different ranks, titles, objects, and places. It was such a stumbling block to following the story. By the end of the book, I had "picked up" a lot of the foreign words, reading them naturally, but the characters' names never ever made it into my head -- even by the end of the book I sometimes had to pause to figure out who someone was because, since I couldn't pronounce the names, they didn't stay in my memory.

But that was a minor issue. This was that rare kind of book where I stayed up late to read and got up early to read and even wanted to read while stopped at traffic lights in my car. Time just slipped away while I was reading.

A review of this book wouldn't be complete without mention of the sex. (And I see that Amazon has this listed under erotica, which seems 100% wrong to me. While there are sex scenes, more detailed than I've seen in a book before, sex is NOT NOT NOT the focus or the main part of the story. It's like 2% of it maybe, at the most.) So, like in the Pern books, when a wolf goes into heat, the humans feel it too. The man bonded to the female wolf feels the same drives she does, and all the men around him feel their male wolves' drive to have sex as well. The first time a female wolf/human boy go into heat, the send them off with one other man/wolf pair, so their first time is more controlled. From the second heat on, it's an "open" mating -- it happens right in the middle of the group, so there's fighting between the male wolves (to see who is the strongest and gets to breed), and the humans often do the same. This can and does lead to multiple men having sex with the female wolf's partner. Even if the female wolf's partner is scared or nervous or knows his wolf will pick someone he doesn't like, he'll still be driven to have sex with him. That worked for me, I could enjoy scenes like that (fictional only of course). However, the second book shed light on that in a way that really bothered me:

[Spoiler for the first book from the second one.]In the second book, we learned that the main character, the person mated to the konigenwolf, was straight. So his wolf partner's heat drove him to have sex with the men around him when he otherwise would not want to have sex with men. That really bothers me -- I don't like the idea of forcing a straight man to have gay sex any more than I would forcing a gay man to have straight sex. And yes, I know there's a disconnect there: I don't have issues of him having sex when there's some force or lack of consent involved (again, fictional setting only), but this fact just cast such a different light on the first book, it really ruined my enjoyment of the sex scenes. /end spoiler

There was some really nice writing in this book. I love this line: Hrolleif laughed, a purring, delighted chuckle.

Also, I was tickled at "undermined" being used in a literal sense. Trolls of the world dug tunnels and lived underground. So this sentence: "If the trolls undermined the town..." How often do you see "undermined" used as "mined under" not in the figurative sense?

Issues aside, I still loved this book and recommend it. I'm only two chapters into the second book, but I suspect it might not work for me. And, based on one sentence I read by mistake of the summary of the third book, and information picked up from the first book, I suspect that one won't work for me at all, but we'll see...
Tags: 2016 books, book review, book: a companion to wolves

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