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Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 


Black Wolves

Black Wolves - Kate Elliott

After letting this sit for almost two weeks...well. Still dunno what to make of it.

But whatever Jehosh might be, he did not have his grandfather's brutal possessive streak, the will to prevent anyone else from tasting a nectar he wanted to keep for himself.

Jehosh loved the pursuit.

His grandfather desired control.

Atani had carved a different path for himself, cut short far too soon.

For some reason, I loved parts like this. The legacy of personalities is something I find endlessly, hopelessly, eternally fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Black Wolves is the way we see the rise and fall-slash-decline of a kingdom in a single lifetime over the course of three generations, a story predicated on questions of legitimacy, suitability, and the possibility that the past might have gone in a different direction if a single individual had made a different choice.

It's also a big book. Structurally impressive, I thought, more thrilling than emotionally resonant. There's a 44-year jump near the beginning around the 80-page mark, a hole that is gradually filled through an interspersion of flashbacks. 200 pages in the beginning provide immersion more than setup, introducing a wide cast of disparate characters at different levels of society with diverging storylines. Focus for the people on the fringes is more on the personal than the political, with Lifka's jessing of a giant eagle, Sarai and Gilaras's arranged marriage. One thing that made the plot somewhat more difficult to follow was that those storylines seem to move wider and wider apart before coming together again, until I found myself entertained but not completely invested in Gil's subplot with

the work gang.

(show spoiler)

And then when that thread did enter a new turning point of sorts

joining up with Prince Fairhosh,

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I wondered if Elliott couldn't have found a more succinct way to get there, and why 


(show spoiler)

 needed to be dragged along.

The world is characterized by subtle sexism, not to the rape-y misogyny extent of A Game of Thrones but occasionally wavers close. There is also a brutal scene of male-on-male rape, an unusual acknowledgment in epic fantasy. Also some crass language and descriptions of bodily functions, so I hesitantly categorize this as "gritty."

In-world sexism shows itself in a number of ways. At its most thoughtful depiction it was quite deeply personal, questioning whether Dannarah would have upheld her father's legacy better than her brother Atani, and the way Anjihosh's inherent respect for his daughter's abilities was tempered by a stubbornness towards a preference for the son. Dannarah overcomes the obstacles of patriarchy to become the full-fledged woman she always wanted to be, but her sisters end up married off, destined for futures where their agency is tragically circumscribed but still put in positions that force them to fight for survival.

On the other hand, it also makes for a particularly cartoonish villain in Prince Tavahosh--the ultimate misogynist dolt whose face you want to claw to ribbons and has the unfortunate power to put his beliefs into institutional practice. Dannarah's final confrontation with him was too self-righteous to be complex, and I had to wonder again why such a conflict with so little thematic payoff was included in the first place, although that may change depending on how Elliott decides to develop it in the next books of the series.

Before reading this, I was told that Elliott could be depended on for the inclusion of women as important and fleshed out characters, and for the most part I found this to be true. Not only that but also women of all ages. Dannarah made a pretty awesome badass 60-year-old, and I'm desperately intrigued for the full story behind


(show spoiler)

 I will say, though, that their personalities don't reach the full range as the males, with many of their lives sharply defined by patriarchy. Lifka is the exception and she felt almost gender-less at times, compared to Dannarah's more realistic struggles as a woman even in her teen years. Hers is an interesting story because it happens almost completely on the edges, and I'm left to wonder how she would grow as a person outside the forces of oppression against women in the central conflicts. Plus, her mysterious past opens a gateway to an entire foreign culture, which I hope Elliott will delve into in future installments.