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

Monday, January 30, 2006

#9: Wolf Brother -- Michelle Paver

I needed a quick, light read, and this was surprisingly impressive. It's aimed at a teenaged audience, and is the first of a sequence, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness: this might be what put me off, the notion of yet another fantasy quest-series.

But Wolf Brother's setting -- the post-glacial forests of Northern Europe, thousands of years before the present -- is out of the ordinary, and Paver creates characters (human and otherwise) who are recognisably different from ourselves in their attitudes and beliefs, but essentially similar in their emotions and motivations.

The book opens with the death of Torak's father, leaving Torak (who's twelve) alone to fend for himself. He befriends, or is befriended by, an orphaned wolf cub: I'm particularly impressed at Paver's handling of this relationship, which doesn't anthropomorphise Wolf beyond what's necessary and credible for the story, and yet verbalises certain aspects of lupine existence. (Wolves have no way of thinking about the future, asserts Paver, which fits what we know about dogs.)

Torak finds himself on, yes, a quest for some magical items, a quest to destroy a demon in animal form. Some of the magic described is fairly obviously based on natural phenomena surrounded by ritual: other aspects, such as the 'glow' of the magical items, makes less sense. And I found myself less convinced towards the end of the book, where Torak learnt of the Ancient Darkness, the source of the evil: perhaps this is simply because I think of animism and ritual as more sheerly primitive than myths of humans with dark powers and evil agendas.

Like Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequels, a fair amount of the prose is devoted to the mechanics of survival, and to descriptions of the glorious, perilous natural setting. (Paver did her research in Finland, but the Forest could be anywhere in the temperate zone.)

I'll be looking out for the next book in the series (projected as 6 volumes), expecting another well-paced, well-plotted novel with clear, unobtrusive prose.

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