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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Songs of the Wolf review

Before I begin, I should point out that I am not a fan of what you would call the ‘fantasy’ genre. Perhaps I should revaluate this position, because as with Engineering Infinity where I discovered that I actually did like hard sci-fi stories, I found myself enjoying this book a great deal.

I should also point out that this is not actually one novel but a collected edition featuring two novellas: The Wolf’s Sister and The Wolf’s Mate. In reality though, they are both chapters in the same tale.
One of the things that in my experience destroys the experience of reading a novel in a fantasy setting is the lack of world building, or too much world building for that matter. Some fantasy writers are too interested in the wonderful universe they have created and spend more time explaining their clever back stories and the history of their races than on little things like character and plot. Obviously, I’m not naming anyone here, but we all know who I’m Tolkien about...

Where was I? Oh yeah- world building. It’s something that RF Long does with an admirable skill and subtle touch. There is not too much detail or dense background provided (the whole book runs to a slim- for a fantasy book- 240-odd pages) and what detail she does provide is inserted well, so that it does not come over as exposition.

The characters are also very well realised, with the arc of the main protagonist, Jeren, particularly well written and enjoyable- her frustrations, her feelings, her fears- they are all communicated expertly- again, without the need for clumsy exposition. If I keep going on about this, it is because it is a skill a surprising number of writers do not seem to be bothered with.

Things I didn't like? One of my other problems with fantasy books are the character names. I find loads of apostrophes and the like in names to be distracting, and Long does employ them here sometimes, but she has the sense to shorten character names to make them easier to digest.
Something I thought I would not enjoy was the prospect of reading a romance story. But breathe easy men! I have to confess that my expectations on this front were not high, but again, Long deals with the relationship between the two main characters in such a way as to have the romance and their growing feelings for each other a constant part of the story, but not overpowering the plot in any way. And, I should add that there is plenty of action in here too- and it is written in a lovely fluid style.

All in all, this is well worth hunting out, but it does end at exactly the wrong moment (or, rather- exactly the right moment)- there is still much of the story left to tell, and I hope she returns to it soon.

Songs of the Wolf is available from Samhain Publishing.

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