Showing posts with label Sarah Monette. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sarah Monette. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

Here's a book I read last year as soon as it released. I also wrote this review last year, but for one reason or another never found the right moment to post it. Well, since I loved the first book of this series so much, right moment or not... here it is, The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear.

In Iskryne, the war against the Trollish invasion has been won, and the lands of men are safe again…at least for a while. Isolfr and his sister, the Konigenwolf Viradechtis, have established their own wolfhaell. Viradechtis has taken two mates, and so the human pack has two war leaders. And in the way of the pack, they must come to terms with each other, must become brothers instead of rivals--for Viradechtis will not be gainsaid.

She may even be prescient.

A new danger comes to Iskryne. An army of men approaches, an army that wishes to conquer and rule. The giant trellwolves and their human brothers have never hunted men before. They will need to learn if they are to defend their homes.
The Tempering of Men is the sequel to A Companion to Wolves and it picks up right where that book ended. As such, it works quite well in my opinion, however, this is not a book I would recommend anyone read as a stand alone as it would not make much sense to the reader. It would be like beginning a story in the middle. And that is exactly what The Tempering of Men is, a middle book without a real beginning or a true end.

The Tempering of Men is told from three different points of view, that of Vethulf and Skjaldwulf, Isolfr's wolfjarls and Brokkolfr a new wolfcarl from whose perspective we observe Isoflr. Although the first book focused on exploring the relationship and balance between man and wolf, this book's focus is centered on relationships between the men themselves. The wolves are still at the heart of the story, just not as central as they were in that first book. This was accomplished by eliminating Isolfr and Veredectichs point of view and therefore the pack sense as the focal point.

The title very much reflects the story, as counterbalancing or neutralizing situations that arise from relationship between men seems to be its main purpose -- whether it's the relationship between wolfjarls Vethulf and Skjaldwulf, conflicts between the packs or the ever growing and rather delicate relationship between wolfcarls and wolfless men -- tempering is the key word. The new introduction of an invading army of men from a different culture adds to the mix.

I thoroughly enjoyed the in-depth look into Vethulf and Skjaldwulf's characters. The way in which the individual characters develop together and apart is a central thread throughout this book, even as events climax and other characters are introduced. However, although I found Bokkflr's view of Isolfr quite interesting and informative, as we get to see him from the perspective of someone who is on the outside looking in I found that Isolfr's perspective is sorely missed in this story.

Having previously read Elizabeth Bear's works (I've never read Sarah Monette), I'm familiar with her use of gender bending. That's present in this installment, for example: there is a female character who is a "son" and the head of his clan, but role reversals are found throughout also, one small example of that is the male who is referred to, and takes on the role of, "mother."

A new female character is introduced in this story, a captive who on the surface appears to be a woman without power. Yet, she is the one who holds the knowledge that men will need to defeat the incoming invaders. Skjaldwulf rescues, adopts her as his daughter and brings her back to the wolfhaell. Again although she is not a central character, she ties in to that underlying thread I mentioned in my post for A Companion to Wolves about women's roles in this male-centric series. She is also an interesting addition to the cast of already vast characters.

That cast of vast characters is one of my problems with this book and series so far -- that and the unpronounceable names. It takes a while to remember all the players in this series, between the wolfcarls, wolves, wolfless men and the rest of the crew. Additionally with the invaders, the authors have introduced new culture(s) (Britons and Roman) on top of the already established Norse (Viking) culture in this series. I'm not sure how or if that is going to effect the overall series.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this book and loved the further in-depth development of already established characters and their relationships, world building, and men's perspective. The wolves as the central focus are missed, and I have some concerns about the addition of new cultures to this already complex world building. The Tempering of Men is a middle book and one I don't recommend read on its own. However I recommend the series as a whole, and do recommend that A Companion to Wolves be read first. This is a fascinating series with excellent world building and characters, and I won't miss the next book.

Category: Fantasy (Spec Fic)
Series: Iskryne World
Publisher/Release Date: Tor Books/August 16, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

A Companion to Wolves, #1
The Tempering of Men, #2

ETA: Please do not judge this series by the covers. Unfortunately, in my opinion in this case, the covers do not do justice to the stories -- the one for this book in particular.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quotes and Thoughts: A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

Female Influence
"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 7
The 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 11
Honor 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.

Pack sense
"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 21
Without 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.