Review: Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

My thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

This is the second of the Immortals series (my review of book 1 is here) by Tamora Pierce. The one opens with the wolves that Daine once hunted with trying to reach her and thinking over the news they’ve received of her from other creatures of the forest. Daine, now fourteen, meanwhile is heading with her mentor/teacher, the mage Numair Salmalin, their horses including Cloud, and Kitten the dragon baby, towards the pack for they have sent for her help as their new home, Dunlath is in trouble. The two-feet there are cutting down all the trees, mining incessantly, chasing away prey making the place unliveable for them, and ultimately for themselves. When they get there however, they find that it isn’t only the animals who are in trouble. A family of local nobles,the lords of Dunlath, are plotting treason against King Jonathan, and switching loyalties. Here they are aided by a whole group of rogue mages, who have some very powerful magic at their command, and don’t seem to care who or what they destroy. Circumstances become such that Daine is left all alone with only her animal friends and some immortal ones in Dunlath. The only other human helping her at first is ten-year-old Lady Maura, younger sister of the Lady Yolane. Daine begins to learn and practice more of what her wild magic makes her capable of,and these new found powers and her friends are what help her face and defeat the “villains” of the piece.

If anything, I think I enjoyed this one even more than the first book. The first book obviously had to set out the background, and introduce us to the world that Daine lived in, and the friends she found in Tortall, but this one to me felt more rounded as a story. I enjoyed watching Daine, who spends much of the novel away from human company, explore her new powers or rather the new uses she discovers of her magic. This helps her not only to do things she couldn’t earlier but view the world through the perspectives of her different animal friends. This was an element I really enjoyed. Pierce does a great job of highlighting the various things—sounds, smells, sights—that different animals would notice, and making one (even the reader) feel that they were looking through the eyes and mind of the animal in question. The adventure elements for me were fairly exciting as well. But besides these, the book also had some important messages to give. It may be set in a fantasy world, but even there “humans”continue to behave as they do in real life, destroying their environment,surroundings, disrespecting other living creatures for what they think is their own gain.  The other was about needing to understand creatures/life that is different, human or animal, as life, as creatures/people who have thoughts, feelings, concerns, and who shouldn’t be judged as monsters or evil in an off-handed way. Here Maura, who is scared of some of Daine’s “friends” manages to shows Daine how she herself might be prejudiced unfairly against some others. Pierce manages to show us that even people who are “good” aren’t always flawless and may have their own prejudices and discriminatory attitudes that they need to address—another message extremely relevant for our world. Once again a wonderful read, in which I especially enjoyed all the animals and Daine’s interactions with them!

Shadows of Days Past

I didn’t think I’d be returning to writing about poetry quite so soon, but when reading Wives and Daughters (which I’m reading in serial with a group on goodreads), I found a reference to John Gilpin (Cowper’s The Diverting History of John Gilpin), which I was all set to revisit during the week and write about, since it is among the funniest poems I’ve read so far (though yes, I still haven’t read very many poems overall). But anyway with a busy week I never did get down to reading it (I hope to sooner than later and will write about it). But I also ended up remembering Kipling’s The Way Through the Woods which I first read some years ago as part of his book Rewards and Fairies, the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill, and also liked very much.

This beautiful (and haunting) poem takes me (or rather my thoughts) to two different things each time I read it. Kipling writes in it of a road that “They shut…Seventy years ago” which has been reclaimed by the woods, the weather, and the rain, where there are now “coppice and heath” and “thin anemones”, so

now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods.

Part of this poem paints this picture of nature becoming “free” again, to grow, to go about life with no fear—the ring-dove brooding, badgers rolling at ease, trout-ringed pools, and the otter, whistling to his mate, for:

“(They fear not men in the woods
Because they see so few)”

Man’s presence and influence more often than not spells trouble for nature, constraining it rather than allowing it to blossom, even to be, destroying it for “development”, or his own greed, or mere entertainment. So of course the description of a place free of man’s influence, his interference, which forms most of the first stanza and part of the second as well, leaves one with a sense of peace, of freedom, rejoicing in her joy, watching the badger roll, or listening to the otter whistle to its mate, none worried that someone might harm them.

The second stanza on the other hand, is rather haunting, for while one mightn’t know that there was once a road through the woods,

“Yet if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late…”

The shadows of the past are still there:

“You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through,
The misty solitudes,
As though they practically knew,
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods!”

One can’t see the road through the woods anymore but one can feel its presence—its memories and shadows remain, and perhaps the wood remembers where the road once was. It feels as through past and present are there at the same time. Yet these shadows, though uncanny, are not really frightening—they bring back memories, make one think of the days past, and perhaps also the thought that where man once was there is always a mark of some kind.

But one also can’t help but wonder when one is lost in this picture, whether it is that this is the only way that the two can coexist? Nature blooming, joyous, thriving, and at peace only in a place where there is no human presence―just shadows of what was―no longer anyone to disturb or destroy…