thoughts on ‘a companion to wolves’

A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

The Blurb:

What lengths will you go to – for your honor and for the love of your wolf?

In a harsh northern land, the towns of men huddle close around the walled keeps of their lords. Those keeps, in turn, look to the wolfcarls – men bonded to huge fighting wolves – for their safety, when the trolls and their wyverns come down from the icy mountains to prey on manflesh.

Isolfr is a young nobleman who is called to the wolf pack. His father is hostile to the wolfcarls and refuses to send his sons, but Isolfr is deeply drawn to the wolves. When the konigenwolf, Vigdis, comes to visit with her human brother Hrolleif, the young man chooses to disobey his father and answer her summons.

My thoughts:

This fantasy is well written, the plot beautifully paced, the characters appealing and with depth, and the world building evocative.

It is more than a story about honour (I think to define it simply as such is doing this work a great disservice); it is about acceptance, courage, honesty, self-awareness, connections and love.

The setting of this world is harsh; however, for me, it was the authors’ gritty and frank exploration of the bonds between the male warriors and their wolves as well as their relationships with others in the ‘pack’, which was the most thought provoking and the most challenging.

Challenging because, unlike other fantasies, this is not a story where the humans dominate their animal companions, but rather where the wolves have the more influential role in the partnership and the men take their position in the wolfcarl community/pack from their wolves.

My conflict (with some spoilers):

My feelings about this book are mixed, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post.

I’ll be very honest and say my main problem with it was how it dealt with homosexuality.

Before purchasing the book I read some of the reviews on Amazon and several of these, although they said they wouldn’t, focused on the ‘whole “gay” thing’ (in their words). This, unfortunately, gave me a false expectation of what this work was about.

Yes, the book has a thread of homosexuality running through it and, yes, to a certain extent the story does deal with the acceptance – or not – of this behaviour…

… did you notice I used the word behaviour? I did this deliberately because, to me, this was about the act itself. It was not about m/m relationships and it was not an exploration of sexuality or ‘being gay’, but rather it was an act some of the men did because of the position their wolves held in the pack.

The question I kept asking myself was “would these men have chosen to be involved in a relationship with another man otherwise?” Some of them may have, but others/the majority I think not and hence my conflict.

I have a huge problem with stories which add an extra ingredient (like a chick or a mate/pack bond) to make a same sex relationship more palatable. I don’t buy this type of message and I don’t like it.

It was also a challenge to read some of the tougher scenes that took place while the alpha females were in heat.

Yes, the boys/men accepted the bond with wolves and decided to become wolfcarl and all this entailed (and I mean ALL), but it reinforced my feelings about the issue of sexuality. Is it really an honour to be forced into having pack sex with other men?? I don’t think so.

My recommendation:

If you don’t like fantasy, don’t like scenes with questionable consensual sex, or you prefer m/m romance, this is definitely not the book for you.

If you want to read a story about the flip side of a human/animal bond, than give A Companion to Wolves a try – it is a good read regardless of the problems I personally had with it.

About Kris

Reads, rants, randoms & R+s. You've been warned. BTW, don't follow me if you're a GLBTQQphobic wanker. It won't end well. For you.
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8 Responses to thoughts on ‘a companion to wolves’

  1. Jenre says:

    Interesting review, Kris. I don’t read a lot of fantasy – although I love Lois McMaster Bujold’s Charion and Lakewalker books.I can’t say I’ve read a book where men have buggered each other for the sake of society – because if it isn’t love or wholly consensual, it’s buggery. I suppose it’s an interesting concept “How far would you go to belong?” as it were, but I can see how that would be uncomfortable reading, especially for someone who enjoys m/m.

  2. Kris says:

    I think that’s it in a nutshell, Jen. Because I do like m/m fiction and enjoy all aspects of the exploration of sexuality and relationships associated with this, I did not like how this book dealt with – or didn’t from my POV – homosexuality at all. When I wrote this post today, I really had to pull myself back from this issue to look at the story/the fantasy itself. I realised that I did like it in many ways; however, the approach to homosexuality certainly coloured the entire experience for me.

  3. Thea says:

    Very interesting, Kris.I have a huge problem with stories which add an extra ingredient (like a chick or a mate/pack bond) to make a same sex relationship more palatable. I don’t buy this type of message and I don’t like it.I can completely understand the sentiment and why you would be uncomfortable with it. I haven’t read the novel, but I get the feeling that the same sex relationships were more politically fueled as opposed to m/m fiction, which is more driven by romance and emotions. I’m still intrigued by the story and will probably give it a try–especially since you say the fantasy is well written.Thanks for the insights, though. I’ll definitely take it to heart when reading this one.

  4. Thea says:

    Oh and on another note–this kind of makes me think of men in prisons and penitentiaries. Many men (or women, for that matter) have physical, sexual relationships with other men–but they do not consider themselves gay. (In fact they would go so far as to kill a confessed homosexual, and yet still continue having sexual relationships with other men)…

  5. Kris says:

    Thea, I think the story is definitely interesting and there are a number of role reversals from traditional fantasy which make it unique. It is beautifully written. The relationships between characters and their wolves in particular are very powerful.Also, unlike some of the reviews that I read before I began the book, it is more than ‘just’ a story about honour and homosexuality. I would recommend to anyone, who wishes to read this book that they keep this in mind.I will be very interested to hear what you think when you get a chance to read it.

  6. Kris says:

    PS – It did remind me of the physical relationships that occur in prisons, in the military, on the long voyage, etc. However, I will say that the bonds and connections the wolfcarls have with their wolves and with each other do lend themselves towards affection, attraction, friendship and even love.

  7. Tracy says:

    Very interesting review Kris. I have to say I love books that go places normal books don’t. This sounds pretty good actually.

  8. Kris says:

    Tracy, it IS a pretty good fantasy story. My only issue with it was how it dealt with homosexuality and this is something that set me off personally, but perhaps won’t with other readers.

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