Through Wolf’s Eyes – Jane Lindskold

I can’t help feeling this must have been kind of a hard sell.  “The primary heirs to the throne have all died, and a nobleman decides to make a play for greater power by going in search of a missing, disinherited prince and his family, and finds what appears to be the prince’s daughter, who has been raised by wolves since about the age of five…”

Making it less ridiculous an idea is that this *is* a fantasy novel, in which the wolves involved in the raising are a higher order of creature – King wolves, smarter, faster, stronger, etc. They have raised the girl as one of their own as far as they can, sorely lacking in the depth of senses but compensated by abilities even greater wolves cannot attain.  She is Firekeeper, which is self-explanatory.

There has always been a prophecy among the wolves that she would return to her own kind, and she does so when she braves the camp of Kestrel, the aforementioned nobleman.  The first person she meets is Derian Carter (in this world one’s surname generally indicates profession), and before he knows what hit him he is her bodyguard and teacher, trying to instill in her as much civilized behavior and language as possible.

This could have been deeply annoying.  So often use of pidgin or elementary English rings false and serves only to cause irritation, and many writers make the unfortunate choice to linger over the character’s misadventures with fork and ballgown; this wasn’t bad.  If anything, I thought Firekeeper advanced a little too quickly, but what do I know?  Maybe she’s just that clever and Derian is just a very good teacher.

The relationships in and around the keep (castle?) are well done.  I keep expecting it to be more George R.R. Martin, as there are a few similarities in worldbuilding and tone, but this is a brighter world, with more people who can be trusted (seemingly).  Firekeeper makes a few friends quickly, and while this had me flinching at first, I soon found it safe to stop: she does not seem likely to come to harm with them. 

Firekeeper is a fascinating character, and rings true: an intelligent young woman who would rather be like the only family she has ever known, but who accepts the duty of being human and among nobles (for the time being).  She is never ashamed of not being human, nor of not being wolf – wolves don’t feel shame, therefore neither does she.  I like that that isn’t drummed out of her; I could wish it would rub off on some of her friends.  She does well enough with learning to speak, but reading and art appreciation escapes her: wolves also don’t rely heavily on visuals to get by in the world.  Her best friend, Blind Seer, is wonderful, all wolf and gorgeous, and the peregrine falcon who also watches her back is nicely done – anthropomorphism at its best.  Among the humans, the bad guys are a little cliched and gloating evil-for-evil’s-sake, but the protagonistic characters are good folk.  I like Derian, a great deal.  The Duke who takes her as his ward had his own interests at heart from the beginning – but he also takes very seriously the duties he took on with her.  He won’t cast her off just because she might not become what he hoped.

One major flaw struck me at some point about halfway, and while I understand it I can’t shake it.  Here you have a fifteen-year-old girl, raised by wolves and rediscovered by a party of men.  She’s utterly unselfconscious about nudity, never having learned otherwise … Logically, I would think she would also be utterly unselfconscious about relieving herself.  And that’s half of where I feel there’s a huge lack here.  At five years old, I assume she was potty-trained (which leads to a whole train of thought about what it was called pre-potty, and for that matter pre-toilet), and that training would probably hold to some degree and be encouraged by the fastidious wolves.  But finding an out-of-the-way non-den spot, all that would be needed within the pack, is not quite enough  among humans, and I can’t help but think that this would be an astoundingly uncomfortable situation for Derian, who would be the one stuck with the job of instruction.

Then there’s the whole auxiliary topic of menstruation.  (Avert your eyes if you’re squeamish about such things…)  At fifteen, she should have been having her cycle for a few years (anywhere between 2 and 5, say).  Would she or the wolves have had a clue in the world what was going on?  From a quick online search it seems wolves go through covert menstruation, and don’t bleed – and with a dozen examples in fiction springing to mind of ignorant girls freaking out and concluding they’re about to die, how would that first time have been handled?  And Firekeeper spent three months all but alone with Derian in the Keep, i.e. at least three cycles.

Now, this is not to say that I want details, about either issue.  Far from it; if I could live the rest of my life without explicit details about sanitary arrangements it would be a happy thing.  Perhaps the reason it’s skipped entirely is because Jane Lindskold feels the same way.  But this is fairly major; some mention, just a passing mention in prim terms as to how the wolves managed and perhaps that Steward Daisy stepped in at the keep, would have sufficed.  But having noticed the lack, it just seems like a great gaping hole, and degrades the level of realism she accomplished throughout the rest of the story.

Another issue I have is that as part of an actually quite brilliant campaign to drive a wedge between Hawk Haven and (Bright Bay?) (while presenting a front at all times as earnestly desiring peace and unity), one character divulges a story about how one side has magical objects from the distant past.  The people hearing the story are horrified.  But it’s not backed up for the reader.  The listeners treat the news as if they had been told that rather than magical antiquities they don’t and, moreover, don’t know how to use the Bright Bay monarch has hidden away a small army of child molesters and pederasts about to be loosed at any time on the enemy: the reaction was that strong.  I feel as though I haven’t been paying attention as a reader (which could be true, but I don’t think so), or as though I’ve missed a book in the series (which I haven’t), because there’s nothing in the 200 pages preceding this conversation to explain why this story is so horrific that it will spread and cause a breach.  The artifacts in question date back to the colonists from the Old Countries who came, settled, started dying of plague, and left, leaving chunks of the population behind and making sure to take all of their magic with them (almost).  They have never been used.  They (probably) never will be used, as the knowledge of how to use them is (we are told) long lost.  No one even knows what they do.  If this is a Chekhov’s Gun, which will be fired in some other book in the series (someone uncovers the knowledge of how to take advantage of the items), it’s a poorly introduced one.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a desire to publish must be in want of a reliable method of information dispersal.  There are, basically, two ways to do it (not really, but go with me here): there’s the Good, which means that data about the past and the present and the setting and the politics is woven, seamlessly, into the text, so that the reader knows what she needs to know when she needs to know it without any effort on her part (but with lots and lots of effort on the writer’s part).  Then there’s the Bad, which means that background information is provided, but in solid and impenetrable chunks of text about government or geography or history – or in stilted and ridiculous “As you know, Bob” conversations.  In Through Wolf’s Eyes, Jane Lindskold seems to have been working so hard to avoid the latter that she missed the mark on the former … Or I wasn’t paying enough attention.  One of those.  Either way, while the one experience we have with magic in the story is bad (and a masterful example of the power of suggestion), there is nothing else to indicate magic = bad.

Things were going along very nicely, the climax was winding down, when suddenly Chapter 28 came along like a solid brick wall.  Suddenly the book goes from fairly solid story-telling to … infodump.  Pure and unadulterated infodump.  It could be construed as being Allister’s ponderings, but no: I can’t think of a more perfect example of infodump.  And I think it’s safe to say that, having skimmed it, it wasn’t really necessary.  There had to have been other ways to get that information out than to spend five dense pages talking about the past several monarchies.  Bad, bad idea, and one major reason I didn’t go higher with my rating.

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3 Responses to Through Wolf’s Eyes – Jane Lindskold

  1. Undernourished women who are exercise a lot (like gymnasts or anorexics) tend to menstruate a lot later than normal. This is a possible explanation. If so I imagine Firekeeper would have started her period as soon as she started gaining a little weight.

    I also tend to wonder about these things. Amazing review.

  2. Pingback: Lindskold, Jane: Through Wolf’s Eyes (The Firekeeper Saga) (2001) | humanitysdarkerside

  3. stewartry says:

    You’re right! That’s an excellent point. She would have been constantly on the move, and not exactly at risk of getting fat, so that makes a great deal of sense. Thank you! That bugged me. Obviously.

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