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The Wolves of Time: Journeys to the Heartland

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The Wolves of Time: Journeys to the Heartland by William Horwood [Harper Collins UK, 1995 -- 610 pages]

The dark millennium of the wolves' is ending. Hunted and poisoned almost to extinction by Mennen and their blight on the lands of Europe, it is time for an ancient legend to fulfill itself and bring either their salvation or their extinction. From the remnants of ancient packs hiding in inaccessible terrain all over the continent come the Wolves of Time, following the whispered call of their Gods back to the Heartland. In the rocky scarps and valleys of the Tatra Mountains of Eastern Germany they will gather to seek a new beginning, or pass from the world forever.

From the Carpathians comes Tervicz, last of the pack charged with keeping the history of what has gone before. From Tornesdal in Norway comes the tragic Klimt, as cold and bleak as the land from which he comes, yet charged with leading them all. From Southern Italy comes Elhana, ousted ledrene of the Benevento pack, traveling with her wise vagrant father Ambato. Aragon comes from the Cabrera region of Spain, carrying with him a prophecy of life and death. Lounel, a wolf more of spirit than of tooth, finds his way out of the Auvergne of France, the last of his line. Last comes Kobrin, leader of all Russian packs, bringing a lifetime's knowledge of war.

These six wolves will cross great distances to meet in the area call the Heartland, unsure of their task but knowing full well their ultimate purpose. Along the way they will tangle with Mennen and their destruction, the fierce and cruel pack of self appointed guardians of the Heartland called the Magyar, and their own personalities; as they seek to regain their ancient lands and set in motion their great purpose.

This book is a based on a typical high-fantasy model, somewhere between "Lord of the Rings" and "Watership Down". The characters are compelling and their situations well described, including lavish depictions of the European lands through which they travel. The development of the story will hold no surprises for fans of the genre, but the writer does a great job of getting the characters into your heart, and you will find it hard to put down in parts.

Regrettably, this book could have seriously used an editor during the initial development of the storyline, as you may find it somewhat hard to get into at first. Mr. Horwood makes the common mistake of presenting the reader with a lot of history and back story right off the top, most of which ends up being forgotten long before you might need to call it into use. His writing style is also hard on the eyes and ears at points, looping back on itself in an almost poetic way, with a bit too much repetition. The 610 pages could have been trimmed to 450 or so without losing any of the book's impact.

He does a good job, however, of translating wolf society into anthropomorphic terms without softening it for human sensibilities. Many of the wolves are as casually violent and authoritative as one might expect, and it gives their interactions a nice touch of contrast to the human norm. That being said, he seems to have missed something in his wolf research, describing them as sweating at several points, when wolves and domestic dogs to not have sweat glands.

There are a dozen or so heavily violent and creepy encounters, both between Mennen and wolves. If such things bother you, be prepared to be uncomfortable. I found most of them superfluous to the story itself, but the inclusion of violence and depravity could be argued as tone-setting here. It certainly makes telling the good and evil elements apart somewhat simple.

Initially this book was intended to be the first of a trilogy, but it was scaled back to two when, according to some sources, further publication was declined. Both volumes appear to be available only in Europe, so you might have to go through UK distribution channels and be prepared to wait a while before you get it. Despite its structural problems, the characters and the sweep of the mythic story Mr. Horwood has constructed makes it worth the time and effort to get and read, especially if you are especially fond of wolves.

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