Sunday, May 18, 2014

Wolf's Brother - Meghan Lindholm

Wolf's Brother is the second half of Lindholm's prehistoric story about the Reindeer people. Lindholm had originally envisioned it as one book but because of its length the publisher decided to split the book. I reread the first half, The Reindeer People, in March and decided not to wait too long to complete this reread. This novel is the last of Lindholm's (under this pen name) I can review. I'm missing the long out of print Cloven Hooves but don't hold your breath for that one. I refuse to pay an arm and a leg for a battered paperback so it might be a while before I can get my hands on it.

As is to be expected with a duology that is really one book, the story picks up right after events in the first novel. Tillu has been offered to join the Reindeer people as their healer,  and with spring approaching, she has to decide quickly. Soon the herds will be moving north across the tundra to avoid the insects that can cause disease among the reindeer. With Carp's arrival and Kerlew's ever growing powers, it is not an easy decision. Then again, life on her own is not without its dangers either. Tillu moves with the Reindeer people and tries to find her place in their society. This proves to be far from easy.

In this novel Tillu really moves among the Reindeer people, giving the reader a greater insight into their everyday life. Summer is a season of intense activity for them. The herd needs to be moved, a gathering with other groups is planned, food has to be gathered, all while the short summer lasts. The feeling that the Reindeer people are in serious trouble permeates the entire novel. Murders unsolved, tensions between members of the group and a mysterious disease breaking out set the people on edge. Their leader is not up to the task of guiding them through these troubles and those who feel they can do a better job are not content to wait until he screws up by himself. The tensions within the group of people rise until a confrontation is inevitable.

I'm still quite impressed with the way Lindholm describes this lifestyle. The descriptions of the landscape, food, culture and everyday activities is very well done. It is always present, the reader gets enough detail to build a mental picture of what this lifestyle would look like. On the other hand it doesn't get in the way of the story. Where the novels she wrote as Robin Hobb tend to be fairly slow paced, her Lindholm works are usually much faster. This book is no exception. In fact, it is so briskly paced that I wondered at the decision to split it in the first place. The combined page count of my two paperbacks is about six hundred. It almost makes the last volume seem rushed.

Where Lindholm handles the setting very well, I was less impressed with the way the plot unfolds. There was tension among the Reindeer People already. Lacking a spiritual leader and suffering from poor worldly leadership, the tribe is adrift. Carp steps in to fill the gap. He does it in such a way that you'd have to be exceptionally stupid or superstitious to not want to kill the bastard within fifteen minutes after meeting him. Part of his tactic is a confidence game but he manages to make so many enemies along the way that it is a miracle the man has lived as long as he has.

He also has a tight grip on Tillu's son Kerlew throughout most of the novel. We get to see the story almost entirely though the eyes of Tillu however, so the depth of their relationship is never fully explored. We get a couple of brief snatches of his activities in this novel. Not really enough to make him into a well rounded character in my opinion. We never get to fully understand how he feels about his master for instance. His quest for a vision does give this book a bit more of a fantasy feel I suppose, but this is mostly used to solve a number of riddles the plot poses the reader that would be very hard to explain otherwise. Not the most elegant use of magic (if you want to call it that) in Lindholm's writing career.

Lindholm interweaves the trouble of the Reindeer People with another problem for Tillu. She is attracted to Heckram, one of the few men who will treat her son as a human being and agonizes over whether or not to give into desire, always afraid of having to move on again to protect Kerlew. This dilemma came up in the first book already but now Tillu has to face it. I thought it wasn't handled very well. Heckram, who in the first novel was stubborn and moody as well as considerate and competent, turns into an ideal husband in the later stages of the novel. He's not quite as bad as Jean M. Auel's Jondalar but it's close.

This reread was an interesting experience for me. I can't really remember disliking so many things about this novel. Wolf's Brother is still a decent read but the climax of the novel is so full of melodrama that it's hard to take it serious. Although endings do not appear to be Lindholm's, and most certainly not Hobb's, forte, I felt this one was probably the weakest she has delivered. My reaction to this novel caught me by surprise. The first book in this duology was more or less what I remembered it to be. This one isn't. I guess my taste has developed a bit in the past twelve or so years (or maybe a bit longer, the Dutch edition I read back then was published in 2000) since I last read them. It makes me wonder how some of the other stuff I read back then holds up. Still, if you like prehistoric fiction, you could do a lot worse than these two books. I enjoyed them in a way, just not as much as I did the first time around.

Book Details
Title: Wolf's Brother
Author: Megan Lindholm
Publisher: Voyager
Pages: 268
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-00-742543-3
First published: 1988

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