Tanya Huff: The Wild Ways

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. . . .” — William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Richard III.

Remember that — it’s going to be important.

The Wild Ways is the second of Tanya Huff’s stories of the Gales, this time centering on Allie’s cousin Charlie — Charlotte Marie Gale, an itinerant musician and a Wild Power.

Charlie is happily settled in Calgary with her Cousin Allie; Allie’s husband Graham, who, while not a Gale, seems to have his own resources; Allie’s brother David, who anchors the family in the West; Jack, a fourteen-year-old Dragon Prince who is also a sorcerer and a Gale; and a few Aunts, just enough to hold a first circle; and playing with a popular country and western band. Well, maybe not so happily — Charlie’s used to wandering, which she usually does through the Wood, but she’ll settle for a plane or train — or beat-up station wagon — when necessary. And then one day, talking to a group of guys from Nova Scotia out west looking for work, the subject of offshore drilling comes up — Carlsen Oil, it’s rumored, is about to get permits to sink a a shallow-water well just off a seal rookery — and not that far from a wildlife refuge. Charlie gets a buzz under her skin. It comes and goes, but it’s definitely there. Then she gets a call from Aunt Catherine — Allie’s Gran, and another wild power — with instructions to meet her in Halifax. As is usual with the Aunties, Catherine doesn’t leave room for discussion, much less argument. So Charlie finds herself in Nova Scotia, playing with a Celtic band on the summer festival circuit, and entangled with — well, an oil company, a group of selkies, goblins, and a series of plots and maneuvers many layers thick, in which Auntie Catherine is entangled up to her neck.

It struck me, on reading The Wild Ways, that the two books in this series so far are coming-of-age stories. The metaphor is much the same as that Patricia A. McKillip used in the Riddle-Master Trilogy — growing up means learning to use the powers, and shoulder the responsibilities, that you have inherited. In this case, Charlie’s epiphany comes just in time to save her life, although it’s touch and go and without Jack’s intervention, probably would not have been enough.

And it’s quintessential Huff — sharp, clean, funny, although the humor starts to take on a mordant cast, and oerfectly paced, with enough edge-of-seat situations to keep even the most jaded reader right there. Huff has always had a facility for turning stereotypes into archetypes, and archetypes into people, and that’s fully evident here. Consider Jack — what better portrayal of a fourteen-year-old boy than Dragon Prince with sorcerous powers that he’s only just learning to control — when someone manages to impress on him the need for control. The selkies, too, have moved into the contemporary world, heading an environmental activist group while minding their investment portfolio, but still retaining their age-old presence — they are at the same time of the here and now and otherworldly, and it works.

The milieu is very rich on this one. It’s a heady mix of music, place, and people that rings true on every level, although Huff hasn’t lived in Nova Scotia since her early childhood. Nevertheless, she seems to have music festivals and musicians down pat.

Oh, and about that nail — once the selkies are rescued and Aunt Catherine faced down, there’s still Carlsen Oil to deal with, permits and all. To paraphrase Anton Chekhov, if you hang a picture on a nail in Volume 1, you have to use it in Volume 2. You’re going to have to read the book to find out what that means.

And once again, I find myself hoping that this is a series that will go on.

(Daw Books, 2011)

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