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Diplomacy of Wolves
Holly Lisle
Warner Aspect, 332 pages

Art: Fred Gambino
Diplomacy of Wolves
Holly Lisle
Holly Lisle was born in Salem, Ohio in 1960. She grew up all over the USA -- Alaska, Ohio, Costa Rica -- and Guatemala. She graduated in 1981 with an Associate Degree in Nursing. Before writing full-time, she sold newspaper advertising, taught guitar for beginners, did commercial artwork, and worked as a nurse until 1993. She has both children and cats, and has been both married and divorced.

Holly Lisle Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Todd Richmond

Diplomacy of Wolves is the fantastic first book in The Secret Texts, a new series by Holly Lisle, and begins a tale of conspiracy and treachery, sorcery and lycanthropy, and ancient feuding families. The story begins prior to a wedding designed to cement an alliance between two Families, the Galweighs and the Dokteeraks. The main character is Kait, a young woman in the Galweigh diplomatic corps. Her assignment, and big chance to prove herself, is to chaperone her cousin before the wedding. Not only does she successfully ward off a potential scandal, but she also uncovers a plot against her Family. The only problem is that she has used her special "gift" to discover the information; a gift so dangerous that if the Family discovered what she truly was, she and every living member of her family, by either birth or marriage, in all generations, would be sentenced to death. For Kait is a Karnee -- a Wolf -- a lycanthrope who can shift from human form to wolf, and the legacy of a Curse laid on the Families five hundred years ago.

But even prior knowledge of the plot against them can't save the Galweighs. Kait manages to escape the fate that befalls the remainder of her Family, but she is left without money, friends or family. As the story unfolds, she is forced to rely on strangers to help her find a mysterious artifact known as the Mirror of Souls, the only thing that can restore her Family to power, is guided in part by a mysterious entity who claims to be the spirit of one of her ancestors, and is befriended by a wizard who follows the path of benevolent magic.

There's a lot to like in Diplomacy of Wolves. To start with, Lisle's world is one that is carefully crafted and well thought out. As the story progresses, you gain an understanding of how her world works. She has a rational explanation for why magic is uncommon and seldom used. Also, the magic employed by the Karnee has frightening consequences. Negative energy is generated by every spell cast -- equal in amount to the spellcasting. The greater the spell, the more powerful the backlash, and someone must absorb it; either the spellcaster, or a hapless victim. Absorbing this energy causes horrible, disfiguring scarring, and eventually turns the Wolves into misshapen monsters that can no longer show themselves in public, where the use of magic or being a Wolf is a sentence of death.

The other type of magic, utilized by a group of individuals called the Falcons, requires the caster to give part of him or herself, most often a bit of blood. The greater the spell, the greater the self-sacrifice needed. Self-limiting to say the least.

The best parts of the book, and, of course, the most important parts, are the characters and the plot. The main character is an intelligent, capable young woman, with some extraordinary gifts who gets caught up in a web of intrigue, magic, and conspiracy while trying to prevent others from finding out who and what she is. But, above all, she has a sworn duty to her family and will stop at nothing to restore her Family to power. She is aided at first by her Uncle Dùghall, a powerful man both politically and, unbeknownst to the rest of the Family, magically. Early in story Dùghall instructs her,

"You serve the Family; that is duty. You do so without endangering the lives of your family; that is both obligation and love. But the needs of the Family must come first, Kait-cha. I have lived by this dictum, as you must: ‘You are born to greatness, but greatness must be re-earned in every generation. Your life -- '"

Kait cut him off."‘ -- is an extension of the lives of my ancestors, and a bridge to the future, and as such my life can never be wholly my own, for my every action reaps yesterday's fruit and sows tomorrow's seeds.'" She quoted Habath solemnly. "I know my duty."

There's a lot happening in this book. While Kait is trying to find the Mirror of Souls, others are trying to find her. One of them is a fellow Wolf who is determined to make Kait his own, regardless of her feelings in the matter. Meanwhile, a group of mysterious entities are attempting to manipulate Kait and several others to accomplish their own secret agenda. A third twist involves the Reborn, an ancient spirit who is about to be reincarnated. As the story progresses you will find that you are never quite sure who everyone is, or what they are doing.

The writing itself is wonderful and is filled with quotations from the Secret Texts, the Book of the Falcons, and other ancient texts. This kind of detail tells you that the author has put a lot of thought into their world, and attempted to give it a sense of history. It gives the stories a richness that makes them more enjoyable. I think if you pick up Diplomacy of Wolves, you won't be disappointed.

Copyright © 1999 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.

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