"Perhaps sometimes it was wise to listen to a woman. Not that he would have to learn, unless he wasn't chosen. Wolfcarls did not marry. But for a woman's voice to speak reason when a man's counseled cowardice --- there was shame." Page 7The female's influence is a thread that begins as a subtle one and one that runs deep within A Companion to Wolves. At first glance it is tough to recognize this thread since the book is packed with male central characters, testosterone and, from the beginning, that psychic bond between man and wolf seems to be the main focus. However even through that bond, our main character Njall or Isolfr learns that there's no shame in listening to a female and that her influence can sometimes be the most powerful. The thread is carried throughout the story as Isolfr and his friends battle trolls and meet the powerful svaltarfar who dwell under the mountain.
"You must decide what your honor is, Njall, and hold to it...." Page 11Honor is another key thread throughout A Companion to Wolves. It is what drives Isolfr's actions from the beginning when he is 16 years old and gives himself as tithe to the wolfheall against his father's wishes. Honor is ingrained in Isolfr, but it is the above advice given to him by his mother -- a female that knows the true meaning of the word -- as he is leaving the keep that stays with him throughout the story. Holding his honor is a decision that will place Isolfr in deadly danger, but one that will make a great man out of him.
"He could smell the night around him -- the snow and the dark and the sap running up branches, the first green tang of spring. He could smell Sigmundr beside him, smell the wolves and the men, each individually, smell Brandr's sour fear and his determination, smell his own confidence -- for, unlike the other young men, he was a jarl's son and this was not his first time in battle -- and he thought if he closed his eyes and concentrated, he might be able to pick out the scent of the moonlight on snow. Moving, all moving, like a great, coordinated dance, and he bit his lip to keep from laughing in delight." Page 21Without pack sense there would be no book. This is what makes the story truly amazing. The authors explore social structure, hierarchy, even political and amorous ambitions and how they affect a group. There's the beauty as shown by the above quoted passage but there's also the raw brutality expected of both wolf pack and man. Man's ambitions and outward civility, as well as the animal's need for domination and or submission are both captured by the writers. The authors also go out of this circle and explore how this group is viewed, and therefore judged, by outside society.
However within the wolf pack, the authors also address the female role. The leader of the wolves is a female. She chooses her mate and controls the pack, and in turn her chosen brother (the man) becomes the most influential male. This brings me back to the thread of female influence, as this female doesn't just represent the mother or mate in the story, instead without her or her brother there would be no cohesion to the pack. In A Companion to Wolves when a female wolf is born there is cause for celebration, as opposed to the world of men where females are not held in high esteem.
Do the central characters realize what females contribute to their lives and to the outside world? Does the role of the female wolf within the pack impact the men's outlook on their world? You'll have to read the book to find the answers.
Final Note: I chose to focus my post on this one point because I found it a fascinating thread in a book that features an all male character cast as the protagonists. The raw and rather brutal scenes that make this story such a fascinating read, combined with the main character's personal realizations, all kept pointing me in this direction as well. However, I just wanted to point out that this is a beautifully written, moving fantasy story focused on the characters -- human and non-human -- their relationships, battles, and most of all honor.