|A Companion to Wolves
||[Sep. 12th, 2008|07:53 pm]
I was fully prepared to be utterly disappointed by A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, but to my joy I found that I really enjoyed it! I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning on a work night to finish it, because I foolishly started flipping through it late at night....Yes, it's like good badfic, but good badfic can be oh-so-good. There's something delightful when familar tropes are handled so deftly. It's about a Viking-ish culture battling a great evil (trolls), with bands of men bonded to (giant telepathic!) wolves at the forefront. And there's guys having sex with guys, sometimes because they have to (they sync with their wolves during mating) and at other times because they want to.
The main character is a young noble (jarls are nobles, right?) who ends up bonding to a female who will head her own pack. He comes of age and finds glory (and manly facial scarring). I like animal-human bonding, bands of warriors, coming-of-age stories, but I've read too many books that just failed. Half the time it was because the main character (if it's a guy) is a little prick that should just be shot. Luckily, the main character in this book is lovely to read. Sometimes he gets a bit...er..."womanly" (I dislike this term immensely but I'm having problems coming up with a better word--even though what little you see of the women in this book makes them out to be pretty tough and pragmatic, IMO), but it's not like he has really good reason to be. I liked how he learned to live in his new role and faced his fears. I loved that he's rather impetuous (he's young and not a natural tactician) but KNOWS it. He looks to guidance from his elders. It's very cute.
I did have problems with the names because there are many, they are similar, and I didn't know how to pronounce them. Luckily I've learned to not care too much about names thanks to reading too many BL novels and missing the reading of the character's names (it usually shows up ONCE and never again). I just see the names as a single visual UNIT and run with it. The too many similar names tripped me up a bit, but most of them were minor characters.
Great (and funny) explanation of the book's intent by one of the authors, Elizabeth Bear, at her livejournal:
And yet, I know perfectly well that if that book goes to press, there's going to be a faction of readers who are like "oo, icky, the sex totally ruins this nice YA novel!" (nevermind the beheadings: beheadings, okay to many people's perception of YA) (no, it's not a YA novel, put down the axe--but some people think any book with a teenaged protagonist must be YA) and there are going to be readers who are like "there's all this sex, and it's not erotic at all, what's with that?" and then, Goddess willing, there will be a faction of readers who are like "Whoa! Genderfuck! And an honest appraisal of the difficulties in living your life while dealing with a physical response to the biological rhythms of another species! And negotiation and compromise and people making sacrifices to defend their families! And the psychic cost of war! And dude, pitched battles in Lovecraftian troll-tunnels, and beheadings, and beard lice, and GIANT PSYCHIC DIRE WOLVES! How cool is that?!"
And it's that last guy I'm aiming for. Dead between his eyes. Because there are books for the other two already, and they don't need my book.
A couple of short reviews I loved: 1 and 2
A review with something to say here, it made me think. I particularly found the idea that this was a feminist book intriguing:
What does seem to me to have a strong case for feminism, and what makes Isolfr an excellent character, is the way in which he very organically and naturally becomes involved in the nurturing-and-ordering aspects of the society--that didn't come out quite as I meant it. Let's try again. Bear and Monette have realized that nurturing-and-ordering of groups (as opposed to running them by virtue of strength of arms) is a *job*, one for which certain men and women are well-suited, but which is not some mystical magical thing attached to femininity. You might need some natural talent to do it really well, and Isolfr is a natural worrier, and has a strong sensitivity to the welfare of the men and wolves around him, from the start, which clearly suits him well for the gig. But also it's a highly-skilled job for which you need to train. In many -- most? all? -- societies women train for it and then perform it without even realizing it, learning from their female relatives and teachers to keep track of the various needs and wants of the people around them and to keep the social network running. (If you're interested in how this plays out in practice, I highly recommend Marjorie DeVrault's short, readable "Feeding the Family: the Social Organization of Gendered Work," which is slightly dated but not very, and which strongly influenced my thoughts on work.) But because Isolfr is a male character, his training doesn't start from birth and it's not all sublimated in a fog of "this is just what women do" and made to seem completely natural; Isolfr comes in with certain traits and skills, and through a combination of effort and good teaching, learns to, well, be a good wife. :) For my money this extended storyline is, by far, the most interesting part of the book, and way way more interesting than the actual plot, which is fine but pretty standard.
I agree with her that the most interesting part of the book was how Isolfr learns his job and finds his place in society (and makes peace with the fact that his "honor" is very different from the honor of his father's). Which the sexual violence is part of, and thus why I didn't find it gratuitous. I appreciated how they carefully prepared the newly bonded for the violence, and how they didn't treat it as no big deal. It is a big deal, but it's the price they have to pay.
Speaking of females/feminism (and other issues), Sarah Monette, the other author, answers some readers questions at her livejournal.
BTW, Sarah Monette answers lots of questions regarding that series about the thief and the magician and their incestous love that I've seen fangirled on my flist as well. For some reason learning that the thief's dialect is based on a Tennessee accent makes me want to read the books now...
In any case, I would love to see a sequel--what I fear is that the sequel will have a different main character...like Isolfr's daughter, maybe? I'm not adverse to such a book, it's just that I'm not fond of sequels that switch main characters in general (especially when the new main character is a member of the next generation). I get too attached to the original person and can't get into the new person, no matter how awesome they may be. :P Unless it's one of Isolfr's wolfjarls...that might be cool. XD;