Today's book review is Wolf Hunting by Jane Linskold.
Looking back at my journal, you might think I've given up on writing these, but really, it's a matter of not putting in any reading time, and reading so slowly when I do. A long book, even one I enjoy reading, takes me approximately forever to finish when I only read for 15 minutes a day.
Anyway, this is the fifth book in Linskold's ongoing Wolf series. I wouldn't recommend trying to pick up the series in the middle; go back and find Through Wolf's Eyes and read them in order. This volume is a reasonably complete episode in the lives of the ongoing characters, but it refers a fair bit to things from the previous books. Even though I have read the previous books, I had a little trouble with a few of the references since my memory is poor.
Linskold continues to do a surprising job in these books of finding new things to show us in the world rather than just going over old stuff again, so even though it's the fifth in the series, it's still fresh. Our ongoing characters and their relationships develop new depths. Actual magic takes a larger role in this story than in the past without changing the character of the world too much. In the end, magical problems still come down to people solutions (I wrote "human solutions", but not all of the people involved are human, which is much of the attraction).
Overall, maybe a tiny bit less good than the previous couple, but still solid; if you've enjoyed the series, keep reading (and if you haven't tried it, go find Through Wolf's Eyes). 9 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Truth the jaguar, driven insane by the events at the end of Wolf Captured, is dying. Her body can't continue to survive being separated from her spirit. But her spirit encounters a mysterious entity that tells her that Firekeeper can help her reunite herself, and Truth manages to convey this information to her keepers. Firekeeper and Blind Seer have been living as wolves, with a pack of Wise Wolves in the islands, but when Lovable the raven brings the message, they answer the call. They and the insane Truth are joined in an expedition by Derian, Harjeedian, and some of the maimoladalum and locate and excavate a mysterious ruin. Firekeeper manages to figure out the secret of a magically locked door, behind which they find an apartment of sorts which is apparently empty except for a few figurines. Some of these figurines are clearly recognizable as Melina (the scheming sorceress whose intrigues drove much of the action in the first three books), Dantarahma (the renegade sorcerer who caused the trouble in the previous book), Valora (the deposed queen of Bright Bay), and Truth herself. The figurines of Melina and Dantarahma are broken. There are also two figurines of unknown persons. Entering the chamber does allow Truth to reunite her spirit with her body, but she becomes so fearful of her talent that she will not look into omens at all for fear of being lost again. Examining the place further, they come to the tentative conclusion that it had been part of a temple that had been converted to a prison -- a temple to a not-quite-god known only as The Meddler, who has a very bad reputation in the lore of Liglim, though in the stories they learn, the trouble he caused seems to have been accidental. The Meddler will start to manifest himself more clearly, even becoming visible in the normal world, and it will slowly become clear that he was imprisoned there before the Divine Retribution.
A slightly reorganized party starts trying to track down the identities of the unknown figures, whose dress suggests they come from the city-states to the south of Liglim. They are tracked to Gak, and then to a frontier estate in the far west of Gak. As the party approaches, there are some hints of wrongness, but the first big problem comes when Bitter and Lovable are attacked while they sleep by mysterious "blood briars", semi-mobile plants which entwine the victim with blood-sucking thorns. The Meddler delivers a message that leads Firekeeper and Blind Seer to effect a rescue; then Blind Seer leaves to fetch the others, and Firekeeper and the ravens are attacked again, this time by "bracken beasts", bunches of bracken interwoven with blood briar, formed into crude but recognizable animal shapes, and animated by magic. With advice from the Meddler, Firekeeper is able to defeat the beasts, but it is a close thing. The party arrives at the location of the estate. The area is strangely devoid of Wise beasts, but they encounter a Wise barn owl who explains that after several Wise beasts went into the mysterious copse and didn't come back out, most fled, but she remained because her mate was one of the ones who had gone in. Plik, the raccoon/human maimalodalu, is captured in another battle with bracken beasts. The Meddler teaches Truth how to pass through the magical barrier, and they find a well preserved ruin. In the ruin, they eventually find a magical gate, but they can't figure out how to activate it. They decide to trip the alarm and see what comes through. Two Wise wolves, two non-magical humans, and two sorcerers come through and are captured. The wolves reveal that they are serving under duress as the sorcerers hold their familes prisoner. They agree to joiin Firekeeper's side if Firekeeper will rescue the captive yarimaimolum as well as Plik and the twins depicted in the figurines they were tracking. They force the sorcerers to take them back through. The smarter sorcerer, Ynamymet, manages to arrange to be alone with Firekeeper as the last pair to go through (the gates only handle two people at a time), and then refuses to transport Firekeeper, even though it means stranding herself as well. The Meddler shows Firekeeper how to operate the gate in exchange for a favor to be named later.
While this has been happening, Plik has been suffering from a serious illness. He is tended by the twins Isende and Tiniel, who are prisoners themselves. The illness is called querinalo, but it's also known as the Divine Retribution. Although it seems less virulent than it was a century ago, it is still very serious. Only those with some kind of magical talent get it, and those who get it either die, lose their magic, or suffer some other sort of change. Plik survives, but loses his ability to sense magic. The twins survived, but they lost their telepathic link; Tiniel is very bitter.
The party works on taking over the place. Three sadistic "keepers" of the captive yarimaimolum are killed. One of the sorcerers -- called "Once Dead" for surviving querinalo and keeping magic; those who lose their magic are "Twice Dead" and are the underclass -- tries to use a powerful spell, but Firekeeper disrupts it and the spell, out of control, kills the caster and most of the other sorcerers who were also bound to it. Then Derian, Firekeeper, Truth, and oddly enough Blind Seer come down with querinalo. Derian comes out physically changed, gaining horse ears, a bit of a mane, and the ability to speak with the Wise beasts, especially Eshinarvash the Wise horse, but he is devastated by his obviously magically-altered appearance. Firekeeper holds onto her wolf identity and defeats the querinalo. Blind Seer survives, but he loses his undercoat and can no longer tolerate even mild cold. Truth has the worst test, because she meets her god, the element of fire, who is very displeased that Truth has abandoned her talent out of fear. They fight. Truth finds the will to live and embrace her talent. She comes out with her fur looking as though it has been burnt, and her eyes blue-white and always seeing the possible futures whether she wants to or not. The surviving Once and Twice Dead are caught trying to activate another gate in a secret area under the place where they were prisoner, and thwarted. With Harjeedian's finesse as a negotiator and the force of Firekeeper's personality, they convince the prisoners to join them in learning how to hold the nexus islands, since the only alternative is to destroy all the gates and face permanent exile on the islands.
Firekeeper returns to the twin's stronghold, where the Meddler redeems his promised favor in the form of a kiss. His purpose is twofold; he is obsessed with Firekeeper and wants to kiss her, but he also wants to form a bond with her that will allow him to breach the magical protections that lock him out of the nexus islands. Enigma, a Wise puma, apprentices to Ynamymet as a gate-worker. It is hinted that the story will continue with exploration into the mainland societies in the Old World, hopefully avoiding a possible war.