Jane Lindskold, Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart (Tor, 2002)

In Through Wolf's Eyes, the first volume of a series by Jane Lindskold, the twin kingdoms of Bright Bay and Hawk Haven were thrown into upheaval, both political and otherwise, by the announcement that King Tedric of Hawk Haven was seeking an heir to his throne.  Immediately, the jockeying for power and position began.  Earl Kestrel, seeking influence for his own house, dispatched a mission across the Iron Mountains to seek out Tedric's long-lost, disgraced son, Prince Bardon.  What Kestrel and his men found instead, was Firekeeper.  A strange feral girl of the right age to be Bardon's own daughter, only survivor of the settlement Bardon and his followers set out to create.  Raised by massive, intelligent wolves, as fierce and alien as any animal, Firekeeper returned to civilization, accompanied by one of the great Royal Wolves, known as Blind Seer.  An outsider in human society, a stranger to politics, she proved capable of handling all problems.  Even human treachery.

Ultimately, the line of succession was determined, though not without the brief incident known later as King Allister's War.  Tedric has appointed his heir: Lady Sapphire Shield.  The throne of Bright Bay has passed to King Allister of the Pledge, himself a product of political maneuvering, while Bright Bay's former ruler has been exiled to the nearby Isles as "reward" for her own treachery.  Tedric's heir, Sapphire, is engaged to marry Allister's heir, Shad.  One day in the future, Bright Bay and Hawk Haven will be reunited by this couple when they come into power.  The neighboring kingdoms of Stonehold, Waterland, and New Kelvin look on nervously as the lines of power shift visibly.  And on the Isles, Queen Valora plots revenge.  Thus does the curtain rise for the second volume in the sequence: Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart.

Firekeeper, also called Lady Blysse Norwood, a name she responds to begrudgingly, has more or less made a place for herself in society.  She has friends, and allies, and a tenuous grasp of social custom beyond "don't steal the bone while someone else is still eating it."  Blind Seer protects her, reminds her of her "true" nature.  In her heart, Firekeeper is a wolf, desperately wanting to shed this human skin of hers for a fur pelt and real fangs and claws.  She dislikes and distrusts the human scheming and manipulations that are a daily part of court life.  But for the sake of new friends and adoptive family, she endures.

Then the plot thickens.  When Queen Valora left Bright Bay, she took with her three magical artifacts, of a sort forbidden over a century ago.  The sort of thing countries go to war over.  She has them, and as long as she does, she possesses unknown power, enough to make everyone very, very nervous.  But she doesn't know how to use them.  For that, she needs the scholars and experts of magic-loving New Kelvin.  She also needs the scheming, dangerous Lady Malina Shield, the only person thought to study magic in either of the twin kingdoms.  And so the threads tighten.

With an assassination attempt made on the occasion of Sapphire and Shad's wedding, Firekeeper -- not to mention everyone else -- is on edge.  To discover that Lady Malina and Queen Valora are working together and have taken the magical artifacts away, possibly to New Kelvin, worries everyone.  And when Firekeeper is summoned home to an unheard-of gathering of Royal Beasts -- those creatures larger, stronger, smarter than their normal brethren -- she discovers she has a very important role to play.  Firekeeper, the human with a wolf's heart, has to find and recover the magical items, for the good of the world and her "people."

Accompanied by Blind Seer and several of her closest friends -- Derian Carter, Sir Jared Surcliffe, and Lady Elise Archer -- Firekeeper mounts an expedition into the utterly alien land of New Kelvin, where magic is revered and the natives paint and tattoo themselves to announce their station in society.  The mission: To steal back the artifacts.  To find and capture Malina Shield.  To foil whatever plots are in motion.  To rescue Malina's missing daughter, Citrine.  To save society.  It won't be easy, but if anyone can do it, Firekeeper can.

Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart is densely plotted, intricately presented, with levels and layers of planning thrown in three or four deep so that the story doesn't stop unfolding until the very last page.  Just because the political maneuvering for the throne is over with doesn't mean it's quiet for the residents of Bright Bay and Hawk Haven.  In fact, the realization that this is intrigue on a grander scale, not quite global but certainly of the sort that precipitated the World Wars, is intriguing.  Not only do we get looks at several of the other countries in that part of the world, we're led to see how different they are from one another, despite their proximity to one another.  Bright Bay and Hawk Haven shun and fear magic as a result of the Plague which originally cut them all off from the countries which founded them, while New Kelvin all but worships magic.  Waterland practices an unusual form of slavery, and so on.

The characters are certainly fully fleshed out.  Firekeeper is sufficiently complex; it's impossible to think of her as anything but a wolf in human form, for all of her ability to function within society.  She's simply that alien, a product of her upbringing and socialization.  To her, human society is strange and new, and the challenge is to relate it to wolven terms she can comprehend.  Her friends all have their strengths and quirks, duties and obligations, unrequited loves and motivations.  While Lady Malina would seem to be so nasty and self-motivated as to almost be over the top, it's mainly because we almost never get into her head.  We are, however, allowed into the thoughts of Waln Endbrook, agent of Queen Valora, and it's certainly something to be said that despite his role, he's actually quite likeable for his faults -- up until a very certain point in the story, whereupon he does something so repugnantly, unasahamedly nasty, that the goodwill is spent in a heartbeat.

This is not a quick or easy story.  One must concentrate to keep the political factions and various names in mind; things are convoluted, and sometimes it helps to go back and reread parts to see how a person might come to the point they do. But pay attention, and you'll be rewarded.  Do, and I mean this, read Through Wolf's Eyes first.  While this one stands on its own, it benefits greatly from a familiarity with the previous events.  The summary provided above, and in our review of the book, are a pale shadow of the complex story presented.

Jane Lindskold just keeps getting better with each book.  She's one of those authors who truly seems to grasp and understand the alien nature of animals, especially coyotes and wolves.  Even granting her wolves and other animals supernatural size and intelligence, she keeps them real and believable, which really goes a long way towards also making Firekeeper, the central character of the series, real and accessible.  I am looking forward to the next in the series, for there will undoubtedly be at least one more, eagerly and without reservation.  This will appeal to any number of fans: those who like fantasy or epic fantasy, those with more than a passing fondness for Tarzan or Mowgli (and for those may I reccomend Pat Murphy's Wild Angel?), those who like political cunning and intrigue, and those who just enjoy a really good 600+ page read.  Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart overcomes almost all of the traditional pitfalls and limitations of being the second installment of a trilogy to present a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.  I couldn't predict how Firekeeper's story will end, and right now, I wouldn't want to.  I'm having too much fun watching it play out.

Jane Lindskold has a Web site .  Green Man Review has also reviewed her novels Changer and Legends Walking.
 

[Michael M. Jones]