Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
Completed 9/9/2023, Reviewed 9/9/2023
This book felt very much like a middle book of a trilogy. It had a sort of lull in the urgency of the story. But it was still a pretty good book, once I got into it. The hardest part for me though was all the characters. There are a ton in this book and they all have very complex names. The setting is a pseudo-Norse culture, so the names are Nordic in style, as are the place-names and titles. It took me about a third of the book to figure out who was who of the major characters, and the minor characters, well, I lost track of some of them. I wished I had read this much sooner after the first book of Iskryne trilogy, A Companion to Wolves. I think I would have enjoyed it even more.
Because of the names’ complexities, I can’t give much of a plot summary which would include them, except for a few, the ones I remember. Isolfr, from the first book, establishes his own den/community of wolves and the men who are bound to them, as well as some women. His wolf takes two mates, which means that the community has two war leaders. So there is some conflict between them. However, they go to wipe out the last of the trolls. Now with no enemy, they have to figure out what to do with themselves. Fortunately(?) another enemy appears, Rheans, i.e., pseudo-Romans. They have invaded the island and are slowly trying to conquer it. So the community, in fact, all of the wolf-linked and wolfless communities must come together to figure out how to fend off other men from their Scandinavian-like existence.
There are several subplots in the middle of the book which are interesting. They include sending an emissary to the Rheans, which includes one of the war leaders, Skjaldwulf. He gets taken prisoner as a witch because of his psychic connection to his wolf companion. The other war leader, Vethulf, takes a group to kill a wyvern that is plaguing a community. A third subplot includes two others, Brokklfr and Kari, who go exploring a cave and running into elves (alfs).
One thing I liked about the book is that there is a little more romance to the relationships between the men. In the first book, sex seemed to be devoid of emotion. In this book, Vethulf and Skjaldwulf are genuine lovers, as are Brokklfr and Kari. While there are hardly any sex scenes in the book, you get the sense that the men actually love each other.
The world-building is quite phenomenal, with the Nordic culture, the wolf-relationships, the names, the place-names, and the pantheon of Othinn, Thor, and Freya. The prose is touch and go. There were times where I really enjoyed it and other times when I found it confusing. I think the confusion again came from all the complex names.
I give this book three out of five stars. It seemed like a lot of set up for the third book. I was kind of surprised that the war with with the Rheans didn’t happen in this book. I guess the the next book begins with it. I am more intrigued by the third book, as the description says it follows Isolfr’s daughter. Women don’t have a large role in this series. So it will be interesting to see how the authors roll that plot line in.