- Series: The Black Wolves Trilogy (Book 1)
- Paperback: 832 pages
- Publisher: Orbit (November 3, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780316368698
- ISBN-13: 978-0316368698
- ASIN: 0316368695
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,205,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Black Wolves (The Black Wolves Trilogy) Paperback – November 3, 2015
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"Characters, their relationships and motivations are intricately woven, and the sympathy one feels for each is a testament to how well they are written...The reader will gasp in surprise and amazement at each revelation."―RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!) on Black Wolves
"Sophisticated, multifaceted worldbuilding sparked by original flourishes, populated by characters we quickly come to care about ... a stellar performance."―Kirkus on The Black Wolves
"Black Wolves is a sweeping tale of loyalty and betrayal, ambition and intrigue, impelled by the mysteries that lie at its heart."―Jacqueline Carey on Black Wolves
"Intricate, fascinating worldbuilding, twisty political intrigue, vivid characters to love and hate -- this is Kate Elliott at the top of her epic fantasy game."―Karen Miller on Black Wolves
"On a vast, colorful canvas, Kate Elliott has drawn dozens of characters who act and react with poetry and grit. Lush and textured, by turns moving, exciting, playful, and contemplative, Black Wolves is a masterpiece that soars with an epic soul."―Ken Liu on Black Wolves
"Delightfully complex."―Library Journal on Black Wolves
"The concept got me shivering. . . .the characters, the mysteries, the background history, the cultural complexity, were all so intriguing I couldn't stop reading."―Elizabeth Moon on Cold Magic
"Elliott pulls out all the stops in a wildly imaginative narrative that will ring happy bells for fans of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy."―Publishers Weekly on Cold Magic
"Elliott has concocted something very special and original here, with elements to tweak sci-fi and fantasy fans of nearly any stripe."―New York Journal of Books on Cold Magic
About the Author
Kate Elliott is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the Novels of the Jaran and, most recently, the Crossroads fantasy series. King's Dragon, the first novel in the Crown of Stars series, was a Nebula Award finalist; The Golden Key (with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson) was a World Fantasy Award finalist. Born in Oregon, she lives in Hawaii.
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The world Kate Elliott built in the Crossroads trilogy and continued here in Black Wolves is complex, interesting, and thoroughly thought out. There are many fantasy authors who can write compelling characters, but very few who can match this level of world building. The character development is also excellent, though the number of characters whose perspectives we follow does make each one feel a bit more distant from the reader. The politics and intrigue are also well handled.
My one nit pick with this book is that when the character perspective shifts each chapter we aren't always immediately told which character we're now reading about. Getting a name in the first sentence or two, or having the characters name as a chapter title would have helped toward that.
There is a large well-delineated cast of characters, fully half of them women, and while many are sympathetic, they do not all agree with one another about basically anything. This means the plot is based on character, rather than some prophecy, or a magical doohickey that someone needs to find or destroy. Instead the story is about: colonization, ethnic conflict, political resentment, imperial ambition, religious extremism, the role of women in public life, the value of families of choice, and the difficulty of creating political change without resorting to violence. Which all sounds bleak and dreary, but instead it's exciting, because there are mysteries, swordfights, moments of beauty, and GIANT MAGICAL EAGLES. Also secret societies, pirates, flying horses, cryptography, invasions, and enormous temples.
I read it all in one binge, and I cannot wait for the next one. So good!
Black Wolves is the first novel in a new epic fantasy series set in the world of the Hundred, which also featured in the Crossroads Trilogy. While I recommend reading that trilogy, because it is good, that is not necessary to understand this one. This book begins about 16 years after the end of Traitors’ Gate, but after 80 pages it jumps ahead another 44 years, and then the real story begins. As another reviewer aptly described it, this is modern epic fantasy, in the best sense: a story told on a large scale, but driven by characters rather than tropes.
Note: this review will contain spoilers for the first half of the book, because as I said, the first 200 pages aren’t really worth talking about.
Like most epic fantasy, this features several point-of-view characters, though it still feels focused, as the connections among characters quickly become clear. Dannarah is a blunt, opinionated reeve marshal (i.e. a leader who flies about on a giant eagle); she is of the royal family but has her own ideas about where the country should go, and at age 60, she’s not taking any nonsense. Kellas is a disgraced but skillful guard captain and longtime associate of Dannarah’s, and comes out of retirement to deal with a precarious situation at the palace. And Sarai is a cloistered but knowledgeable young woman who jumps at the chance of an arranged marriage to escape her outcast status at home. There are also a couple of secondary POVs: Gil, the bored and mischievous young nobleman whom Sarai marries, and Lifka, a young reeve of exotic origin.
Once it gets going, the book has an engaging plot and is a quick read; there is a lot going on here, with a large cast of characters, a complex political story and plenty of unexpected plot twists. There’s a bit of magic (but not too much) and a bit of romance (but again, not too much – Gil and Sarai’s scenes never failed to put a smile on my face, though they’re a long shot from the melodramatic pronouncements that usually accompany fictional romance). There are villains, but this isn’t shaping up as your standard good-vs.-evil fantasy; instead of asking who is the rightful king, the book questions whether there ought to be a king at all. As always, progressive ideas inform Elliott’s writing; these books are set in a land influenced by Asian and Polynesian rather than European cultures, and the book treats its diverse cast of characters with respect. They are an interesting and well-developed bunch, and even those not in positions of power manage to take control of their situations in fresh and believable ways.
In other words, this is just the sort of fantasy I want to read and wish more authors would write. Beyond the slow start, I have few criticisms: there is some overly expositional dialogue early on, and the book ends with little resolution. I want to know what happens next! Fortunately, Elliott writes at a good pace, so there shouldn’t be too long to wait.
Overall the story had compelling characters. I really liked that just when you think you know where a character is headed, the story takes a left turn. The setting also feels really fresh.