Series: The Black Wolves Trilogy #1
Published by Orbit on November 3rd 2015
Black Wolves may be a daunting read as it is a massive book and I know sometimes readers are deterred by that. The thing is, though, it is also a massively impressive book. Scaling it down would be a disservice to the story and quite honestly the story deserves to be read. I have not formulated my ‘best of the year’ list, but I can tell you this book will appear on it as it is easily one of the best epic fantasies I have read recently.
I have not read any books by Kate Elliott before. This is evidently placed in the same world as some of her other series, but features a completely new set of characters. So for anyone wondering if you need to read her previous books prior to this, I would tell you I felt great about reading experience despite having read none of the other books set in this world.
Rarely have I read a book where the timing and execution of flashback scenes has worked so well with tension/suspense. The integration of these scenes was incredibly well executed. Initially, we are introduced to Kellas, a daring young man who has just completed and unclimable climb without assistance. Actually, it was an impulsive act of defiance and self indulgence as he rather recklessly decided to ignore the laws and climb the mountain, just because he was sure he could. And he did. That decision and the resulting fallout completely changes Kellas’ life. While he is being tried by the King, we also get a glimpse of a young Dannarah, the King’s daughter.
The King decides to show mercy and rather than sentence Kellas to death, as is the known punishment for the climb, he sees an opportunity to use Kellas’ skills and drive for his own benefit by placing him in an elite military group. Dannarah is a spirited girl that you can quickly tell would thrive best outside of her expected role as a princess (which would usually be the role of marrying off for a political alliance). The story spans decades of these characters’ lives and we can see how they grow as people, yet still possess that spirit that we glimpsed in their youth.
I quickly was enamored by both of these characters and so I have to confess to a moment of disappointment when the story takes a 40 year jump in time. I was just invested and attached to these young people and hence I was a bit reluctant to switch gears. However, it did not take long at all before I was just as caught up in events unfolding in the new time period. I also think I felt a stronger connection to both Kellas and Dannarah, who are now aged past their prime, than I would have without that initial opening. It’s not that I wouldn’t be capable of enjoying them as much, I just feel that what we read in the opening gives such a clear and definitive picture of them in their youth and sets their characters up for their path down the road.
In relation to the time jumps, I can be very sensitive to spoilers, feeling they can remove some level of suspense. I always want to get the story how the author decides to tell it. That is the point, after all. But often I think flashbacks don’t work for me because of the knowledge I have about the future (similar to spoilers you may run across from other readers). But in this I craved the details for that skipped over time despite knowing information on “the future”. There are many critical events that take place 20 years after our initial introduction, 20 years prior to the current time after the timeline jump. I loved getting to piece together that part of the story as we went. And how this pieces together turns out to be quite relevant in the current timeline as well.
Characters are so important, and I know there are complaints about the lack of solid female characters in epic fantasy. This book gives us several. In addition to Dannarah, we also are introduced to Sarai in the newer timeline. A bold, impulsive decision forever changes the course of her life, and I have to confess to having a serious soft spot for her. There are also some characters that play a lesser role in the novel, but are incredibly strong, interesting and fun women. To be honest, I hope to see more of at least one of them in the future books.
My chief complaint is really that I have to wait for the next one to be published. Hands down one of my favorite fantasy books of the year and makes me feel perhaps I should explore more of Kate Elliott’s books.