The Wolf Tower: Personal and interactive

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Tanith Lee Wolf Star Claidi JournalsThe Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee

The Wolf Tower (also published as The Law of the Wolf Tower) is the first of a quartet of books concerning the young woman Claidi’s series of adventures in a fantasy realm, as told and recorded by her in her journal. Her story begins in the House where she works as a slave to the spoilt Lady Jade Leaf, which Claidi recounts in the book that she’s stolen from her mistress’s stationary chest. She’s not entirely sure what made her do such a dangerous thing, especially since there’s nothing particularly interesting to write about her life — she slaves after Jade Leaf night and day, living in fear of beatings and punishments and attending the endless rituals of the rigid House.

But then something does happen: a hot air balloon is shot down over the Garden and the House guards drag back an extraordinary young man named Nemian. Claidi is at once transfixed by him, and when she is summoned to the presence of the Great Lady Jizania Tiger, she’s astonished and delighted to find that she’s being offered a chance at escape with the handsome Nemian. All she has to do is take Jizania’s key, unlock the prison door, and Nemian will take her to his own City — to freedom.

And so Claidi’s journey begins across the land known as the Waste, and all the many strange tribes, villages and people she meets throughout — some dangerous, some friendly, but all fascinating and worthy of recording in her beloved book. Finally Nemian’s City looms, and his secret agenda is revealed — it seems Claidi’s fate is inexplicitly linked to something known as the Wolf Tower, and the terrible Laws that are governed from its heights. But by this stage, Claidi is prepared to take matters into her own hands…

Young readers will love exploring the range of interesting landscapes and worlds that Tanith Lee vividly describes, everything from rainforests to deserts to huge cities are wonderfully brought to life through her descriptive prose — predominantly of note is the band of nomadic bandits, including their charismatic leader Argul. It’s as close as you can possibly get to really experiencing these places without actually being there yourself, whilst at the same time uncovering Claudi’s hidden past and the conspiracy that follows her journey to the forbidding Wolf Tower. Freedom is the theme of the story, whether it’s freedom from tradition and rules, or the restrictions one imposes upon oneself, as Claidi not only goes from captivity to freedom, but from reliance on other people to independent thought.

Claidi herself makes a rather insipid heroine at first — quite a few of her decisions are obviously foolish and her behaviour at times is rather confusing (plus her love story with Argul is rather too sudden and unconvincing), but the complete honesty and wit that she uses in writing down her experiences more than compensate for this.

In fact, what makes The Wolf Tower so readable, is the way in which the story is told. Rather than third-person, or even strictly first-person, Tanith Lee makes the book itself Claudi’s journal — and Claidi herself is talking directly to the reader. Obviously Claidi has no idea who it is that is reading her words, but she ponders on this mystery, wondering how far her book has travelled, how far into the future it’s being read, and what the reader thinks of her. In terms of Claudi’s direct addresses to an unseen reader, this is the most personal and interactive book I’ve ever read. The connection between the real-life reader (whoever it might be) and the fictional Claidi is remarkable, and something that is not read, but experienced. Tanith Lee creates the bond ingeniously, and young readers between ten and thirteen (male or female) are bound to be captivated by this intimacy.

It’s just a shame that the publishers didn’t go a bit further in their presentation of the book, perhaps using a handwritten font, or making the book appear as an actual journal. But never mind — The Wolf Tower and the following books in the series are must-reads for any fantasy fans, especially those inclined to Tanith Lee’s wonderful stories.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for the review! There’s not enough Wolf Tower content out there. My sister and I just reread Wolf Tower for our YA fantasy nostalgia podcast. I was really struck by it as an adult – Lee’s writing is so poetic and the diary vehicle is a perfect fit for the story. I’m more patient with Claidi today than I was when young, probably because I have a clearer understanding of how limited her worldview was when she entered the Waste. I love her healthy skepticism! And to go from a life of servitude to singlehandedly ending a harmful religious and political system is pretty amazing. Our podcast is called Dragon Babies if you’d like to check it out.

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