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A Companion to Wolves
Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
Tor, 302 pages

A Companion to Wolves
Sarah Monette
Sarah Monette was born and raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She studied English and Classics in college, and has gone on to get her M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature. Her novels are published by Ace Books. Her short stories have appeared in such places as Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Alchemy, and Strange Horizons.

Sarah Monette Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear shares a birthday with Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in central Connecticut. She currently lives in the Mojave Desert near Las Vegas, Nevada, but she's trying to escape. Elizabeth Bear is her real name, but not all of it.

Elizabeth Bear Website
ISFDB Bibliography
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A review by Alma A. Hromic

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, with a degree of apparent effortlessness that is astonishing, have pulled off not one but several very difficult things in A Companion to Wolves.

The first, and by no means the least, is the sometimes vexed collaboration issue. I have read co-authored books in which I could have chopped out and parceled into neat little piles the bits that belonged to the various authors because the voices simply never gelled enough to produce perfect seamlessness. Here, it just doesn't even matter. It flows. The two authors work as one; it's not so much cooperation as a symbiosis. A job very well done.

The second is the worldbuilding.

The whole story works. It is solid, steady, completely captivating -- something that is equal parts art and craft. Yes, the basic building blocks are fairly familiar -- this is not precisely our world but there are enough threads in here to ground the story in a semblance of a memory of our world and it feels tantalizingly real all the way. This is a world that both writers understand, know, love… have lived in.

The people are real; the creatures are real. The villains start out as "the trolls" but, in the end, are shown as simply not-us, something other and alien and reacted to and feared simply because they could not understand us and we could not understand them. Both sides felt it was absolutely fine to engage in butchery because they considered the other as, well, the OTHER, something lesser, something threatening and vermin-like and fit only to be exterminated.

This is the strength of fantasy. The realisation that things are not necessarily what they seem is so much a part of war and peace in our own reality -- where we don't have trolls, we will invent them. And A Companion to Wolves is precisely the book which allows the bitter flavour of that to seep through, to be tasted in the back of the throat, even as the sugar coating of the "fantasy" element melts away.

Last but not least… the wolves.

I remember, a good few years ago, meeting a man, a boy and a German Shepherd puppy on the frozen main street of Banff, Canada, during what they called the coldest winter in 30 years. I asked if I could say hello to the dog, they said sure, and I called to the pup -- who came lolloping over, and then lifted its head and skewered me with these slanting golden eyes. I said, after I had got my breath back, "What kind of dog IS this?" -- and his owner shrugged and said, "Well, let's put it this way, his mother ran away to the woods and came back pregnant." So I've looked into a wolf's eyes, and I know their power. And what Bear and Monette have done for wolves in this book is no more and no less than what Anne McCaffrey has done for dragons -- they have made the wolf iconic, memorable, something larger than life, and something that can add the missing half of a man's soul to his being, once those eyes are met and the partnership is accepted. The authors do a magnificent job of exploring the bond between man and wolf.

The storyline is gripping -- I read this thing at a sitting -- the writing is exquisite, and the book is destined to be a classic of its kind. If I have a cavil it's that A Companion to Wolves was too short -- and, perhaps, that the ending feels slightly unfocused, as though they haven't quite finished the story, but are laying the groundwork for more to come (and being selfish I could hope that this is indeed the reason) -- I wanted more, and I still do. And there seems to be more story where this came from. It's a book I wish that I had had a hand in writing.

To summarise my feelings in three words, get this book.

Queue for it, snag it off the shelf of a bookstore, a library, or a friend. Get it. Read it. This is the Real Thing.

Copyright © 2008 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves." When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her international success, The Secrets of Jin Shei, has been translated into ten languages worldwide, and its follow-up, Embers of Heaven, is coming out in 2006. She is also the author of the fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days.

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