The Wolf by Leo Carew
A book much stronger in the blood of war than in the quieter machinations of politics.
Split into three main parts that cover the events of a single Autumn, Winter, and Spring, the book sees the Sutherners of Albion (which just so happens to be the oldest name of Great Britain) demolish a long-held peace and bring war to the ancient race of Anakim. It is focused on the clash of three main players: Roper, the new 'Black Lord' of the Anakim, whose abrupt empowerment following the death of his father places him in a position that is tenuous at best; his main rival, Uvoren, a famous Anakim warrior whose popularity and position at the head of the Sacred Guard allows his deadly ambition to challenge the throne; and Bellamus, a wiley Sutherner determined to break out of his low-born status by starting and winning a war in the North. Each of the three will do whatever it takes to stay at the top, pitting them against each other in an uncompromising battle of wills played out though savage battles and political intrigue.
The first part of the book hits hard with brutal scenes of death and betrayal, quickly sketched characterisations that nevertheless effectively reveal the essence of each person, and more than a few surprises. Yet once the basics are all established, things start to fall apart, for Roper and the novel. The challenges faced by young Roper as he struggles to find his place rapidly invests the reader in his plight, as do the cast of characters he rather magically brings to his side. It is here that Carew does his best work, bringing colourful and appealing characters to the page, as well as injecting some real humour. I must note, however, that having one snarky woman who helps a bit in the background but also gets poisoned and pregnant, does not a make a good female character, and there are so few women that their portrayal matters. Anyway, rather than a gradual evolution, Roper morphs from threatened youngster to skilled leader far too quickly, then makes a series of bizarre political and moral choices against the advice of his closest allies. This factional to-and-fro in the middle section of the book is slow, without the necessary character development it would take to make it interesting. The art of war is portrayed more vibrantly, with scenes of one-on-one combat by far the most impressive, though some of the larger battle sequences run on just that bit too long. Even here, there are some questionable decisions by the author to skip over battles and only have them recounted in retrospect-the first time was plot driven and necessary, but then again? Not so much.
Additionally, the world in which this is played out felt too ephemeral, somewhat of a surprise considering so much was over-described. The author happily spends three pages detailing a fortress or a wild hunt, but rather than add to the wider picture, these mini-segments took the reader further away from the action. There was so much time spent not doing or saying anything important that skimming became inevitable, particularly in the second and third sections of the book, which were padded with irrelevant scenes, repetition, and unnecessary conversations. At times, the pacing was glacial. The natural world fared somewhat better. The maps at the beginning of the book indicate the Northern Sky of the Anakim covers lands which approximate everything above modern-day Leeds and is it easy to imagine an amplified version of that landscape, a wilder and more unwelcoming place filled with dangerous terrain and predatory beasts. The Anakim are an essential reflection of their home- there's a chilling scene played out where the invading army is surprised by Anakim warriors high in the mountains, appearing silently out of the mist... truly the monsters of Suthern legend. Yet while these individual scenes have a significant impact, the greater impression is of disconnection- the author may have told too much, but it was too little of what the reader really wanted to know.
Overall, some promising signs, but the failure in cohesion and pacing drained far too much of the fun.
ARC via Netgalley
This The Wolf book review was written by Emma Davis
All reviews for: Under The Northern Sky
Under The Northern Sky #1
The Wolf is a thrilling, savagely visceral, politically nuanced, and unexpectedly wry exploration of power - and how far one will go to defend it. Violence ...
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