wJan 29, 2009

A Companion to Wolves

It feels weird to be reviewing this book now, with both authors swept up into RaceFail 2009, but really it just means that I'm super slow with writing things up. In fact, I've forgotten nearly all of the interesting things I had to say about it, except that I thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to read more by both Bear and Monette.

A Companion to Wolves centers on Isolfr, a young man living in a Norse-inspired winterland. His father is the Lord of a town protected from trolls by wolfcarls, men who live the traditional life of the village to partner with wolves and live on the edge of society. Isolfr's father is appreciative of the partnership until his own son is called to be bonded with a wolf. His son disobeys him, and leaves with the wolves anyway.

Because Isolfr's society is so Norse-like, nearly all of the human characters are men. This is not true of the wolves with whom they construct strong emotional bonds. And guess what happens when the wolves go into heat? Indeed! Their male partners have sex with each other.

This sparked intense debate in our book club: Do some scenes amount to rape? It is made clear throughout the novel that Isolfr can leave his wolf and return to the village at any point. Yet, he stays, for the love of his wolf. Does this element of choice take away the label of rape? Not quite, but I think that the structure of the book does.

What Monette and Bear are doing is subversive fantasy, which is what I like. As a general rule, I tend to vastly prefer science fiction novels to fantasy ones. I actually can't think of any fantasy novels I like that aren't decidedly feminist except for Redwall, and even there sometimes gender roles are blurred.

Anyway, as always, someone else has already said what I'd like to say much better than I would have said it anyway here in this post.
That choice is what makes A Companion to Wolves not only queer, but decidedly feminist. Ignore the half-assed overt feminism tagged onto the end of the novel via Isolfr's realization that girls should have the same opportunities as boys. Pay bloody attention to what Isolfr is doing throughout the novel.

He's choosing to be the caretaker. He's choosing to submit to his wolf-bond, to whatever men his wolf prefers. He's choosing a woman's role. It's overt in the sexuality: he knows he's the "girl" - he's the one being taken, being topped (and Isolfr doesn't even get veto power. His wolf is making the choice of who.) But it's more subtle in his every day life. There some slight acknowledgement that his role as the queen wolf's man is the "wife" role. But still that's most strongly tied in his mind to the sexuality. It goes beyond that - he takes care of the pack. And as he grows into that role, he finds his strength there. Women make this choice every day. But it goes unnoticed, cuz that's what women are supposed to do.

Sure, Isolf goes to war, but more often, he remains behind. Waiting. Taking care of the home, the injured - because his queen wolf and her reproductive capacity cannot be risked. That's IT. Right there.

Many have said that this novel is "in conversation" with other animal companion novels, such as Anne McAffrey's Pern books. I must confess that I don't believe I've ever read any books that qualify as animal companion novels. The book was still thoroughly enjoyable, though.

Recently, both Monette and Bear revealed in their blogs that they have received the go-ahead to write two more stories in this universe.

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scribbled mystickeeper at 9:28 PM

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