This is a review of “Black Wolves” by Kate Elliott.
Twenty-two years have passed since Kellas, once Captain of the legendary Black Wolves, lost his king and with him his honour. With the King murdered and the Black Wolves disbanded, Kellas lives in exile far from the palace he once guarded with his life. Until Marshal Dannarah, sister to the dead King, comes to him with a plea: re-join the palace guard and save her nephew, King Jehosh, before he meets his father’s fate.
There are very strong inspirations from all corners of Asia. All the empires and peoples mentioned in the book are very clearly inspired by real-world ancient empires. Though it can sometimes be a bit confusing to differentiate the clans and peoples, usually it only adds a certain zest to the story that most European-based fantasy stories lack.
Kellas is a fascinating character to read about. He was excellently written as a young man, but he is far more interesting to get to know as an old man of about seventy or so. Not many stories have such an old man as one of the most important main characters. His knowledge and experience comes through in all that he does, as well as all the years he has spent working in the shadows, away from the court. King Jehosh was just as excellent, well-developed and amazing until the very end which ruined him completely as a character.
Sarai starts out as an okay character, with more or less only her secret relationship with another girl to actually make her interesting. It is a shame that this relationship is barely mentioned and only showed proof of once. Dannarah is a strong character, almost overpowering, but it makes sense with her past. Queen Chorannah’s vicious maneuvering is excellently written, and old King Anjihosh was one of the most fleshed-out characters to appear even though he only lasted for about forty pages. His son, Atani, was almost as good.
The mystery of the plot – the who-dun-it and the why – is excellent and convoluted. The political intrigue is also interesting. The various queens and their factions, the Silvers/Ri Amarah, the princes, the various empires surrounding the Hundreds, and, most of all, the demons themselves. The demons are the most interesting, kept hidden and mysterious. What their plans are is the thing that drives the plot forwards and which helped me stay with the book to the end, as well as the apparently many different types of supernatural creatures though we barely get a hint of those.
The writing occasionally dips into the realms of harlequin romances both with the way the words are strung together, and also with how much focus there is on people being aroused in the oddest and most inappropriate of situations. The way some of the characters react when confronted with someone they find desirable, is almost to the point of the ridiculous. A young, inexperienced person reacting like that sounds believable. A seventy-something old man meeting an old lover? Not so much. There are also instances of instant romance when two characters apparently just fit together.
Too much time is spent introducing characters and setting things up after the first part of the book. More than three hundred pages pass before the story picks up again, and there were so many characters introduced and so many plot-lines, that it was almost enough to kill any desire to read further. It was simply too slow and too few things happened that would seem to have any bearing on the plot. The author also occasionally repeats certain things over and over again as if to hammer it into your head that this particular thing will be important in the very close future.
Some of the characters seem a bit superfluous so far, only adding to the confusion since there are so many characters in the book altogether. Gil’s transformation upon his marriage was a bit too over the top, Dannarah suddenly being revealed to have forced Kellas into a relationship once upon a time, didn’t fit with her character. Prince Tavihosh seems like a caricature compared to others, and Lifka – though an excellent character – almost seems to be forced in with her story. It might have been better to leave her out for now, or altogether. The final reveal of the bad guy’s plans and reasons was pathetically simple. It was down right ridiculous.
Considering this is a book of almost 800 pages where the first 500 were quite boring and seemed to have little to do with the overall story, this is a slow book that requires a whole lot of patience to read. Perhaps a bit too much patience, but a did get through it with some skimming occasionally, and the last part was interesting enough to make me want to read the sequel. But not right now, and most likely not anytime soon. I need a break from this story.
It’s good and I recommend it, just be patient with it.