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Wolf's Bane
Tara K. Harper
Del Rey Books, 337 pages

Wolf's Bane
Tara K. Harper
Upon graduation from the University of Oregon, Tara K. Harper, went to work for R&D, test-and-measurement companies. She also writes technical material in biology, physics, engineering, and other sciences. She has written seven science fiction novels, including Cat Scratch Fever, nominated for the Oregon Book Awards, and Cataract, recommended for a Nebula Award.

Tara K. Harper Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Grayheart Excerpt

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

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Wolf's Bane is the latest in Tara K. Harper's Tales of the Wolves series. I have not read Ms Harper's previous installments, and this one certainly isn't going to have me combing the fantasy section of my local used book store. There are moments when Ms Harper shows the talent that has gotten her this far, but those moments are rare. Unless you are deeply devoted to this particular series, I would suggest you pass on Wolf's Bane.

To begin with, the dialogue is unbearably bad throughout much of the book. Ms Harper wishes for us to believe that grizzled trail riders spend ninety percent of their free-time engaged in coffee-house psychobabble about personal loss and the need to look to a brighter future. For instance, near the beginning of the book, Aranur is holding a conversation with his mate, Dione, who figures as the main character of Wolf's Bane. He dismounts from his six-legged beast and says to Dione,

"You get so caught up in the here and now -- in what you think needs fixing this minute. But the world can't be fixed in a single lifetime. Or by any single person. You have to look ahead, to choose what you fix today so that you build tomorrow stronger."
This wouldn't be nearly so bad if it weren't for the lengthy monologue that Aranur engages in over the next page on the same general theme.

People just don't talk like this. And if they really do talk like this on the planet of Asengar, then the reader can more fully understand why the resident aliens of this world -- the Aiueven -- have created a plague to kill off these loquacious nincompoops.

The plot of this book is rather hard to pin down. Eventually, the main character, Ember Dione the Wolfwalker, goes on a quest to meet the Aiueven, a feathery, mildly psychotic race of aliens who seem to oscillate between benevolence and raving mania. The first three hundred pages or so of the book are Dione's attempt to come to terms with the death of one of her children and the later loss of another main character whose name I will not reveal in the interests of those of you who stubbornly plunk down your six bucks for the novel.

There is some interest generated by Dione's conflict with Bandrovic, a scheming Raider, who actually has plans for Aranur, and who just wants Dione for bait. Along with Bandrovic, the other interesting character presented in this book is a young healer-apprentice named Asuli, who in real life on Earth would have been "fragged" out in the wilderness by Dione's companions, but who sticks around long enough to give the novel some much-needed comic relief.

It is a sad commentary on a book when the only two characters of any depth are both self-serving, scheming, and manipulative, and that the reader ends up appreciating them all the more for it.

After Dione's entourage has had its climactic encounter with Bandrovic, Dione begins to develop her Christ-complex, continually questioning why she has to carry her heavy burden of guilt, memories, and nagging companions. Each of her companions takes it upon him or herself to pull Dione aside and offer positive comments on the future and introspective dialectic on their view of Dione's view of the world. This continues until deep in the book, when Asuli, sensing that she is the only interesting character Ms Harper has to write about, manages to remove herself from the story-line (and remains alive in doing so). At this point, Dione decides that her new goal in life is to make contact with the Aiueven, a race of superbirds responsible for the plague that is decimating the ranks of the wolves on this world, as well as killing tens of thousands of human inhabitants. Dione draws on her own highly developed mental powers -- honed through her mental connection to the wolves of Asengar -- to carry on a conversation with the Aiueven, a conversation that eventually leads to her being adopted by one of the aliens. Ultimately, Dione fails in her hopes of forcing the Aiueven to give her the knowledge that will allow her to develop a cure for wolves and men.

My understanding is that Ms Harper was going through some kind of personal crisis while writing this book. My suggestion for her would be to do what the rest of us have to do with pain and sorrow: grieve on your own time, and give the folks in the audience what they are paying for. In this case, that would be a solidly-structured novel centering on characters who talk in a believable manner and who act in a realistic fashion.

Copyright © 1997 by Stephen M. Davis

Steve is faculty member in the English department at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, S.C. He holds a master's in English Literature from Clemson University. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely to Become a Young Curmudgeon.


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