________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008


Wolf Rider.

Sharon Stewart.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
340 pp., pbk., $8.99.
ISBN 978-0-439-93646-0.

Subject Headings:
Ravenes - Juvenile fictions.
Wolves - Juvenile fictions.

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4


Crossing a dark side passage between two structures, Tok heard a dull thud, and thought he saw a flicker of movement. Calling Brekka, he dove down it to investigate. And there in the half-light he made out the shapes of Tulik and Vikka. They had ripped open a large soft blackish object and tugged out its contents, spilling chunks of something on the ground. Tok could hear the wolves crunching bones, and then he smelled what they were eating. Something so rich and delicious that saliva began to drip from his beak.

"What is it?" he asked Brekka as they circled down.
"I know such things well," she replied. "It is food cast away by the Two-Legs. I ate such fare all the time on the Hills of Shame."

The two wolves looked up from their meal as Tok and Brekka lit beside them. "Help yourselves," said Tulik. "It's a feast. And there's so much of it!"

"You must leave it. You're endangering the rest of the pack!" warned Tok.

"Just a few bites more," said Vikka. "We were so hungry, and when we caught a whiff of this we just couldn't help ourselves."

"Leave it!" thundered a voice from behind them. And there stood Durnal with the rest of the pack behind him. "How dare you!" he snarled, his green eyes blazing, as the two young wolves cowered before him.

Suddenly part of the structure behind them opened outward, and they all cringed. Light streamed out from inside, and in the middle of it stood a Two-Legs holding another of the big soft objects.  It stared at the wolves, then its mouth opened wide and it began to scream.

     In this outstanding sequel to Raven Quest, Tok, legendary raven hero who had reunited his flock with the wolves who provide the carcasses they all feed on, finds himself again falling outside of raven law, feeling that his absence precipitated his wife's death. Uneasily watching the destruction of the environment through the actions of the Two-Legs, Tok leads the wolves north to a nirvana promised by Tunavik, the Messenger raven. Suddenly they find themselves attacked by a vicious outlaw raven group, and their journey takes on more urgency. Tok is attached to Selak, the wolf pack's vora, or female leader, who trusts him to lead them away from danger. As they evade their enemies, sneak through a huge Two-Leg city and search for a supply of deer for food, their friendship deepens. Challenged by the betrayal of family and the natural environment, the wolves and the ravens who often ride on their backs, forge ahead to a new home on the tundra where caribou are plentiful. Once there, they are confronted by Groh, Tok's ancient nemesis, now known as the Overlord, the leader of the outlaw ravens. As he battles to the death with Tok, Groh's followers kill him when they witness his breaking of the rules of the duel.

     The ravens and wolves are all distinct, fascinating characters, particularly Tok and Selak. Initially quite despondent over his second failure to observe raven law, Tok gradually takes on more of a leadership role and comes to realize that his flexibility has actually created new opportunities for the ravens. Over time, he also acknowledges the strength and courage of Brekka, taking her for his second wife. In stark contrast, Groh's insistence on mindless obedience has created a nasty, brutish society that cares for no one. Selak (and all the wolves) calmly accept the tragedies that befall them, going hungry in the absence of food and gratefully gorging themselves when the deer are plentiful. Selak relies on her memory of past leaders and her occasional glimpse of the future.  When she loses her pups, she cannot contain her grief and cedes the leadership of the pack to a younger, confident female, bringing herself back to normal with the help of Tok, a wise older male wolf who joins the pack, and the intervention of scientists who capture her to repair her broken body. It is interesting that Tok's son, Rokah, who believed lies about his mother's death, does relinquish his pride and acknowledge that he was wrong, taking on the leadership of Groh's company, determined to re-establish raven Korts and to aim for peace.

     This rich, complex fantasy immerses the reader in an alternate world, one that builds on the accurate observation of wolf and raven behaviour. An entire mythology of wolf and raven beliefs is unobtrusively woven into this fabulous story. The Canadian wilderness shines as the reader sees it from the point of view of the animals that depend on its on-going health. Particularly compelling is the raven and wolf attitude to human life, of which they are both wary and disdainful. Dramatic irony engages the astute reader who realizes far ahead of Tok that Rokah has betrayed him and that Brekka is falling in love with him. Witty, human-like dialogue endears the animals to the reader and advances the story.

     The themes of caring for the environment, loyalty to the community, friendship and promises kept, and the importance of considering the opinion of all, concern all boys and girls in the intended readership.

     Wolf Rider is great, classic fantasy, a must-read novel that you should run at and buy immediately.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a bookseller in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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