Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

Set in prehistoric times, Promise of the Wolves begins with the birth of Kaala Smallteeth to the Swift River wolf pack in a land called the Wide Valley. She is born of Outsider blood, and bears a strange mark on her chest, circumstances, legends say, which point to the wolf that will save or destroy all of wolf-kind. Ruuqo, the leader of the Swift River pack, does not want to take any chances, and is determined to keep Kaala from officially becoming a member of the pack. Though Ruuqo tries to make it hard for Kaala to succeed as she goes through the pack's rights of passage, she has her friends zzuen, Marra, and the raven Tlitoo to help and support her. Her life takes a dramatic turn when she saves a human girl from drowning in a river. She is powerfully drawn to the girl, but legend says that wolves promise their gods, the Ancients, to have no contact with humans. If they break that promise, the Ancients will lay ruin to their packs. Nevertheless, Kaala continues see the girl TaLi, and by bonding to her she comes to realize that humans and wolves are meant to be together. As she questions the legends and pack knowledge, Kaala must decided what is more important to her, gaining the acceptance of Ruuqo and becoming part of the Swift River pack, or finding a way for humans and wolves to coexist. Promise of the Wolves combines scientific research and fantasy to tell the story of dog's origins, and the beginning of human civilization though the eyes of a wolf.

I have long been a fan of wolves and the animal-fantasy genre, so I expected that reading Promise of the Wolves would be nothing out of the ordinary. I expected another Watership Down, or Julie of the Wolves, but instead I was surprised to find myself reading a new and unique take on the genre. The story is slow, and even dull, for the first several chapters, but by the end, I found myself hooked, wrapped up in an intricate web of legends, politics, relationships, lies, war, and fate. I found myself enjoying the book, but not for the reasons I thought I would have. Instead of liking the book simply for the fact that it was told through the eyes of a young wolf, I enjoyed reading the book because the author was able to deftly weave science into the story's fantastical elements, in addition to supplying enjoyable characters, and an intriguing plot. Promise of the Wolves is based on the theory of the co-evolution of wolves and humans, the idea that humans learned to hunt and form tribes by following the wolves' example. The trilogy, of which this book is the first installment, is a creative explanation of wolves' domestication and the first dog, and while it is grounded in science, the story takes off on its own as a fascinating tale from prehistoric times where wolves were man's equal. The last chapter leaves many questions unanswered and plot threads to tie up, making me impatient to read the next book. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in wolves, or to anyone who is exploring the animal-fantasy genre.

Reviewer Age:16

Reviewer City, State and Country: Concord, MA USA