No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, October 30, 1995

The Wolf Within -- Pamela Belle

The Wolf Within is the sequel to The Silver City, which told the story of Ansaryon and his defeat of the usurper Tsenit. Ansaryon's son Bron, dedicated to the Death God Ayak at his birth, is growing up. A shy, self-contained child, he is haunted by the knowledge that the power inside him killed six thousand enemy soldiers - and that Ayak, the Wolf Within, revelled in the slaughter. Bron must keep the Wolf at bay - but he doesn't know how. His father takes him to Zithirian, the Silver City, to teach him to control his own magic, but as Bron reaches adolescence it becomes clear that the Wolf is only waiting for his chance to destroy all that Bron holds dear. The only safety he can give his family is by running away, out into a wider world of warring kingdoms. Away from his family, he can pretend to be a normal youth, playing music and travelling downriver towards the Sorcerer's Island Jo'ami, where his salvation may lie. But it is not an easy pretense, and the malevolent presence of the Wolf inside him - while preserving him from danger - cannot be kept under control forever ...
Bron's travels take him through wastelands, past ruined cities, and to a matriarchal theocracy which shows him a presentiment of his fate. He flees to Toktel'yi, the sprawling city from which the Emperor Ba'alekkt plans his domination of the known world - and his oppression of the lands he's already conquered.
Here Bron meets Mallaso, 'a woman who carries the pain of her slaughtered people'. She has no reason to love the Emperor - and Bron, discovering Ba'alekkt's plans to overthrow the Silver City itself, cannot help but agree with her. It is suddenly imperative that Bron comes to terms with his own power, which may prove to be Zithirian's only defence; but is the price too high?
Pamela Belle paints a detailed and evocative world which is richly imagined and has an internal consistency which is often lacking in fantasy worlds. It's reminiscent of our own world in the age of Alexander the Great - with the one, massive, difference that sorcery works. All sorcerers - except the divinely-cursed Bron - must take the drug Ammatal in order to use their powers. There are four rules of magic to which they must adhere: sorcery must be used unselfishly, without hurting anyone; the sorcerer must employ restraint and accept responsibility for his own actions. A laudable charter, and largely adhered to; the existence of these laws adds an extra moral dimension (again, often lacking in fantasy) to Bron's actions.
Bron himself is an appealing character; far from perfect, and - despite his awesome powers - with very human fears and failings. Even the minor characters with whom he interacts are deftly and realistically described. Pamela Belle may be working on an immense tapestry, but she doesn't stint on detail.
Perhaps the most telling recommendation that I can make of this book is that, having read it, I wanted to read the first one - and the events of the last few pages make me keen to find out what happens in the third volume of the trilogy.