I bought this book a few years ago after having a really bad day at library school. I’m a sucker for companion animal fantasies. If someone ever tells me that they’ve written a companion animal fantasy that’s like Kushiel’s Legacy, that’s all I need to know. Here, take my money!
Anyways, you know when you read Dragonriders of Pern and you totally thought “Man, those Green riders must be totally gay with each other,” and then Ann McCaffrey was like “NO HOMO!” and you had to put up with Lessa and F’lar and fucking Robinton (yes, we know he’s amazing, Ms. McCaffrey, STFU about him already) instead?
If this describes you at all, you need to read this book.
In a nutshell, A Companion to Wolves is like Dragonriders of Pern WITH GIANT WOLVES, AND THE MANLIEST OF MANLY VIKINGS WHO HAVE MANLY SEX WITH EACH OTHER!
A Companion to Wolves takes place in the land of Iskryne, think Viking Age Scandinavia and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. This is a land where humans are constantly threatened by trolls. In order to fight these trolls, men (known as wolfcarls) bond with trellwolves–giant, matriarchal wolves who can communicate telepathically with their bondmates. Our main character is a young nobleman named Isolfr who is chosen to become one of these wolfcarls, and he ends up bonding with a queen wolf, Viradechtis.
The bulk of the book depicts life in and around the wolfheall, where the wolfcarls live, with some action-y bits (especially near the end).
So, to summarize, you have a bunch of men (specifically men, as women can’t bond with the wolves for some reason that’s never really explained) all living together, who form really close bonds with giant wolves. Oh, and the mating instinct is pretty much like it is in Pern–so strong the two bonded humans need to have sex with each other.
So, yeah, A Companion to Wolves has a lot of man-on-man sex, and human society in Iskryne is as heteronormative as, well, its real life counterpart, if not more so. You can see why young men might not be so eager to join the wolfcarls. In fact, this becomes a point of tension between Isolfr and his father. It’s interesting how Monette and Bear manage to talk about gender roles when there are so few human women (non-human females are present in spades) present in this book, but they do, and I think they do it well.
Now, this book definitely isn’t for everyone. If you can’t stomach graphic depictions of m/m sex (including group activities) just….don’t get this book. Many readers have also had issues with what they see as non-consensual sex between Isolfr and the other wolfcarls. This is just my personal opinion, but while I would say that Isolfr is certainly apprehensive about having sex with his companions, I don’t recall him ever not consenting to sexual acts. Again, if what I just described makes you uncomfortable, I’d recommend not picking it up.
What else can I say about this book? The wolves are (as you might expect from a companion animal fantasy) awesome (they speak with scents and pictures rather than words) and the relationships between characters are interesting (two mature queen wolves in close proximity to each other is a recipe for disaster). One final note, the characters do change their names when they bond with the wolves, so that can get a little confusing (and the popular thing to do is put “ulf” in their somewhere). Fortunately, there is a list of characters at the beginning, which should help the reader somewhat.
So, in summary, if you were the kind of reader who thought there should be more gay sex in Dragonriders of Pern, are a fan of vikings (and giant wolves, you must like giant wolves), or maybe you’re just tired of happy companion animal fantasies and you want something that’s a bit more gritty, you might be interested in this book.