Wolf Star: Muddled but interesting story

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Wolf Star (also published as Wolf Star Rising) is the second of four books known as the Claidi Journals, stories told in the format of a diary by the young escaped-slave Claidi and her travels throughout a fantasy world in search of her origins and a home of her own. In the first installment, Wolf Tower, which you really must read if you want to understand what’s going on in this story, Claidi escaped the confines of the House with the handsome Nemian, only to find that his intentions for her were less than honourable. Taking her to his dismal city and the matriarch Ironel, Claidi found that the inexorable Law of the Wolf Tower made her the new distributor of the cruel and unnecessary rules that governed the land.

Destroying the mechanisms that put the Law in place, Claidi made her escape with the handsome bandit-leader Argul — her betrothed. At the beginning of this new part of her diary, Claidi is immensely excited about her approaching wedding to the man she loves, and her acceptance into the extended family of the Hulta. But as she prepares on the wedding day, a catastrophe occurs — she is kidnapped by men of the Wolf Tower in a great balloon, and taken across the sea to a strange place known as the Rise. With only clockwork figurines for company, Claidi desperately searches for a way to escape the confusing and dangerous moving rooms of the Rise, a huge palace and garden carved into the side of a great cliff.

Soon she discovers that she’s not alone — the Rise is the home of the elusive and confusing Prince Venarion (or Venn for short), who is just as bewildered at Claidi’s presence in his home as she is. Abandoned by his mother Ustareth at a young age, Claidi suspects that somehow she is connected to the events that are now unfolding: the hidden designs of the House and the someone who has plans for them both without either of them knowing, someone who mysteriously signs their letters as “we”, and who has a secret agenda going on. Wanting only to uncover the mystery of the higher interest in her, and to return to her beloved Argul, Claidi talks Venn into undertaking a trek deep into the Rise to find the library — the one place where they might both find the answers they’re looking for.

Unfortunately in continuing the story, Tanith Lee raises more questions than answers, and many of her ideas come across as confused and contradicting. She possibly has a master-plan in mind for the completion of the story and the unfolding of the mystery, but she is unraveling it in a very muddled way — it’s almost as if she’s making it up as she goes along and later figuring out how all the clues fit together, rather than the other way around. Despite this however, the characters, the story and the mystery of Claidi’s role in the world is interesting enough to keep one reading.

There are also complaints concerning the setting of the book — Wolf Tower was a journey that took place over a large area, whilst here Claidi is stuck almost entirely within a single house. Granted, it is an exceptionally fascinating house, with moving rooms and clockwork servants, but much of the appeal of the first book was the scale and freedom of Claidi’s travels. Here, that is gone.

But Wolf Star is a good follow-up to the previous book, and most will be interested enough in picking up the next one, Wolf Queen, even though I am always frustrated at writers/publishers that split books into more than one volume needlessly. Claidi’s journal is one big story — it should be presented as one large volume, not lots of little ones. There are overviews of the previous book at the start of each new installment, but I’d recommend reading them in order.

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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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