On paper, Leo Carew‘s The Wolf (review copy from Headline) ought to be right up my street. It’s billed as “a thrilling, savagely visceral, politically nuanced and unexpectedly wry exploration of power and identity”, which is catnip for a reader of my taste. But I bounced off it fairly on, and this one languished in the did-not-finish pile.
The premise is a good one. War between the North and the South thrusts Roper, a young man, into power unexpectedly quickly when his father (the King of the Northern, Anakim people) is killed in battle, and he must struggle to gain authority early on or risk being deposed. Meanwhile, Bellamus, a common-born upstart Sutherner who can run rings around most of the Suthern nobles, is fighting for renown, aided by the private patronage of his lover, the Queen.
Unfortunately, this book hit far too many of the buttons that turn me off a novel. I even tried putting it down for a bit and coming back to it, to see if it would help. It didn’t.
The problem was that I didn’t buy the fundamental premise. Roper, the new King of the Anakim, is presented to us as a politically naive young man who finds himself having to fend off the ambitions of a wildly popular and successful soldier called Uvoren. But it just didn’t ring true for me. By rights, Roper should have been being groomed for his future role for his whole life, yet he acts like someone who’s never even thought about it and doesn’t have the first clue about his country, let alone running it. This is someone who would have been raised in the highly political environment of his father’s court, yet he acts like someone who’s just arrived, doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t have the first clue how anything works. I just don’t buy it. And Roper shows little or no grief or reaction to the death of his father. Which I also don’t buy.
The politics in the novel falls foul of one of my particular bug-bears. It’s something that only Bad People do. Not Roper, who is a Good Man. Politicking becomes a lazy marker for someone the reader is meant to identify as a villain, so they can enjoy despising them.
There are issues with the world-building too. This is yet another fantasy world where we are expected to believe that countries can field armies in the scale of hundreds of thousands of troops. But the economies seem to be based on subsistence farming, and there is no convincing sense of how the landscape or the economies can support a military-industrial complex of that size, including all the support services and industries required to maintain it, and the logistics involved in moving armed forces of that scale around the country.
And there was just something in the prose style that grated too. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was like nails down a blackboard.
All in all, too many things on my list of pet peeves, all in one place in The Wolf. While this isn’t a book that’s actively bad, there was just too much that kept throwing me out of the story and if I can’t suspend my disbelief I can’t carry on reading a book. I’m sure there is an interesting debut in there, and Leo Carew will continue to develop as a writer, but this isn’t the book for me.
Goodreads rating: 2*