Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Microreview [book]: Wolfpack by Rem Wigmore

 Wolfpack is a spiky solarpunk that wrestles with questions of leadership and belonging.

Cover by Layla Rose Mutton-Rogers

Wolfpack is the second book in the Foxhunt series, so spoilers ahoy! Also, please be aware that this review (and the book being reviewed) contains passing references to suicide. While this series has many traits of solarpunk in its worldbuilding and its focus is on healing, the inclusion of material relating to trauma, violence, mental health and disaster (both natural and manmade) makes it a little spikier than other examples of the subgenre.

For those new to the series, it is set in a version of our world in which humanity has managed to step back from the brink of ecological disaster. It has done so by instituting some strict rules about the reasonable use of resources and enshrining the laws of hospitality. When someone breaks those laws, the Order of the Vengeful Wild is called. While the Order's mission may be noble, they have a well-earned reputation for bloodshed and violence.

The story picks up two months after the previous book. The previous Leader of the Order, Luga, committed suicide in a way that framed Orfeus, making her Leader. Orfeus went along with it because it put her in a position to implement changes to the Order, such as a no-kill policy.

Her relationship with Faolan remains uneasy. He's still very much in love with her, but resents her for having killed his surrogate father figure. He also feels the changes she has implemented come from weakness. While the story is mostly focused on Orfeus, one thread shows Faolan coming to terms with the fact Luga was not a good father to her and had no intention of handing over leadership to her. She also wrestles with the nature of leadership: can it be done without the self-destructive sacrifice Luga believed was necessary? Can it instead be done like a pack, a family?

As a side note, if the pronouns in the previous paragraph just did your head in, an important element of this series is its representation of gender. Faolan's pronouns tend to alternate between he and she. There are also a variety of other pronouns used throughout the story. A number of the characters are transgender, including Orfeus. And if there's a straight, cis-gender character anywhere in the book, I must have overlooked them. (As a straight, cis-gender woman, I'm fine with that).

The Order has undergone some membership turnover since the previous book. One or two members left, unwilling to tolerate Orfeus' leadership. A new member was also gained and is finding eir feet with Orfeus' support. The relationship that develops between Velvet Worm and Orfeus is rather sweet and a good counterpoint to some of Orfeus' other relationships.

Speaking of which, Orfeus too has finally found a place she belongs, though she is slow to realise that. Being used to thinking of herself as an outsider makes it difficult for her, as does the baggage that comes with some of her relationships, particularly Faol and Tai. She is quick to protect others, but can get prickly around them wanting to protect her.

There's a lot in this story about belonging. Another thread of this book focuses on Jean, a runaway from a cult. Jean's path soon crosses with Arcon, an AI programmed to protect a DNA bank Orfeus damaged in one of her ill-conceived adventures. Jean's upbringing with the Truest Church of the Most Ancient God (which is most definitely Christian inspired) leads him to conceive of Arcon as an angel, so when Arcon asks for the use of Jean's body (being damaged and needing somewhere to store his nanites), Jean agrees.  Jean has been looked down on by the cult he grew up in and Arcon has been lonely without company for decades, perhaps gone a little mad and suffering from errors in his programming. They don't always see eye-to-eye, but they do find belonging together.

But going back to Orfeus' ill-conceived adventures, I found the story a little frustrating in places because it is one of those stories where the characters just need to sit down and have an honest conversation. Orfeus is aware of this need, but works to avoid it, instead opting for grand gestures which tend to leave destruction in her wake (sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally). Her tendency towards keeping her intentions hidden and actively lying about them damages her relationships. While the honest conversations do happen eventually, it's still pretty annoying, especially since I'm not sure Orfeus really learns from her mistakes. I certainly appreciate a flawed character, but there needs to be a sense that they can learn and grow; Orfeus' tendency to make the same or similar mistakes makes it difficult to trust she has changed.

Although Wolfpack makes a reasonable entry point for the series, with the history behind ongoing relationships being either explained or easily inferred, I'd recommend starting the series from the beginning. Returning readers will enjoy cameos from characters from the previous book, such as Orfeus' neighbour Linden and Rivasoa, the Archivist of Eldergrove.

The book offers a reasonably satisfying conclusion while leaving the way wide open for more. There's a looming threat left as a loose end and while some of Orfeus' relationships are left in a good place, others are in need of repair.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for the sheer diversity of queer representation, +1 for mature handling of themes of family and belonging

Penalties -1 for Orfeus' dubious personal growth

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10

POSTED BY: Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a writer, binge reader, tabletop gamer & tea addict. @elizabeth_fitz@


Wolfpack. Wigmore, Rem (Queen of Swords Press, 2023)