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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Promise of the Wolves" by Dorothy Hearst

Official Dorothy Hearst Website
Order “Promise of the Wolves
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Previously, Dorothy Hearst was an acquisitions editor at Jossey-Bass, where she published books for nonprofit, public, and social change leaders. “Promise of the Wolves” is her debut novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Born of a forbidden mixed-blood litter and an outcast after her mother is banished, Kaala is determined to earn a place in the Swift River pack. But her world is turned upside down when she saves a human girl from drowning. Risking expulsion from the pack and exile from the Wide Valley, Kaala and her young packmates begin to hunt with the humans and thus discover the long-hidden bond between the two clans. When war between wolves and humans threaten however, Kaala learns the lies behind the wolves’ promise. Lies that force her to choose between safety for herself and her friends, and the survival of all wolfkind and humanity…

CLASSIFICATION: In the publisher’s press release, “Promise of the Wolves” is compared to Jean M. Auel’sThe Clan of the Cave Bear” and Richard Adams’Watership Down”, neither of which I’ve read. So for me, I was reminded of The Lion King—if the movie had been set 14,000 years ago in southern Europe and starred wolves, ravens, humans, and elkryn instead of lions, meercats and warthogs—Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and “White Fang” & “Call of the Wild” by Jack London. Because of some violence and death I would rate “Promise of the Wolves” PG, but like Harry Potter it is a YA-styled book that can appeal to adult readers just as much as a younger audience. Recommended for lovers of animals—especially wolves and dogs—anthropomorphism, and mythology…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 335 pages divided over two Parts and twenty chapters. The main plotline, set 14,000 years ago, is narrated in the first-person via the she-wolf Kaala. The two prologues, set 40,000 years ago, and the epilogue are in the third-person via the she-wolf Lydda. “Promise of the Wolves” is the first book in The Wolf Chronicles trilogy, and while the novel doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger, it does leave many questions unanswered.

June 3, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Promise of the Wolves” via
Simon & Schuster, while the UK version (see inset) will be released July 7, 2008. (S&S). The lovely US cover art is provided by Honi Werner.

ANALYSIS:According to legend, when wolves had just become wolf and when humans were not yet human, a wolf named Indru met a human. Both were very hungry and both were leading their packs in search of food. Against all logic and sense, Indru invited the tall-standing creatures to join his pack in play. Eventually they lay down together and slept, and when they awoke, they awoke changed, some say their souls intertwined. The wolves then taught the humans secrets of the wolf clans, and before long the humans were changed. They grew stronger, learned how to control fire, developed new tools, and decided they were better than other creatures and that all other creatures should serve them. The wolves refused, and humans and wolves fought. This caught the attention of the AncientsSun, Moon, Earth and Grandmother Sky—and when they saw what the humans were doing, they knew that these creatures would threaten the Balance. So they decreed to the wolves and humans of the world that the time had come for them to die. But Indru begged for the life of wolf and humankind and the Ancients listened, agreeing to give humans and wolves one last chance as long as the wolves made a promise—a promise that their children and children’s children would keep: To forever shun the company of humans.

For years upon years, the wolves did their best to keep Indru’s promise, but try as they might, they could not stay forever away from humans. Time and time again they came together, and each time Sky grew angrier and pulled them apart. Then, many years later, long after the time of Indru, a youngwolf hunted with the humans and taught her pack to do the same. In doing so, she caused a great war. That’s when the covenant of the Wide Valley was born:

1) To keep away from humans as much as possible.
2) To never kill a human unprovoked.
3) To protect their bloodlines and mate only with wolves inside the Wide Valley.

Any wolf who did not obey this Covenant would be killed or banished. Any pack that did not enforce the rules would be wiped out. To break the Promise with the Ancients, would mean the destruction of wolves and humankind…

Into this setup we have Kaala, a forbidden mixed-blood who would have died like her littermates if not for the intervention of Greatwolves, guardians of wolfkind. From here, “Promise of the Wolves” is basically a coming-of-age tale that chronicles Kaala’s maturation from pup to youngwolf. Like a coming-of-age tale, Kaala undergoes rites of passage—surviving the summer journey and the first winter, swimming across a river, the first hunt, et cetera—makes both friends and enemies, and suffers under the tyranny of adults, all while trying to become an official member of the Swift River pack. Of course there are some significant differences with this setup, the most obvious being that the entire novel is told from the perspective of a prehistoric wolf. So instead of dealing with such common themes as popularity, drugs, sex, or proms, “Promise of the Wolves” is about survival and the pack—“The good of the pack outweighs the good of any one wolf. Pack is more important than life, more important than the hunt.”—although prejudice, jealousy and family issues are familiar enough :)

Promise of the Wolves” is also like a traditional fantasy epic. You have Kaala, with a white crescent mark on her chest and her Outsider blood, who is essentially the ‘chosen one’ out of prophecy, “born to either save or destroy her people.” Additionally, the novel is steeped in mythology; there are fantastical elements like ghosts; and let’s not forget that most of the animals in the book—including wolves, ravens and elkryns—can talk & think like humans, and in some cases, can even communicate with humans…

Writing-wise, “Promise of the Wolves” is penned with grace, intelligence and passion. The prose is charming and accessible; the character of Kaala is likeable and well-rounded, her narrative voice alive; the secondary characters—including Kaala’s friend/potential lover Ázzuen, the raven Tlitoo, the spiritwolf, and the human TaLi—possess distinguishing qualities and are solid; the plot moves along at a steady clip and offers more than a few surprises, especially regarding the legend of the wolves, the Wide Valley, and the Greatwolves; and you can just tell that writing the book was a joyful experience for the author :)

Now much has been said about the historical/scientific research that has gone into the writing of “Promise of the Wolves”, and I thought Dorothy did a wonderful job in realistically capturing pack mentality, hunting, and so on. I particularly liked the relationship that she developed between the wolves and ravens :) That said, the author does take a guarded approach—mating season for instance, is never broached apart from one humorous remark—and because the wolves talk and act so much like humans, it’s sometimes hard to think of them as wolves…

A lot has also been said about how the plot is based on co-evolution, “a scientific theory that wolves, and later dogs, made humans the dominant species by teaching us to hunt cooperatively, hold territories, and form complex societies.” Definitely intriguing, but I have to admit that I didn’t know about that connection until I had finished the book and read about it in the press release ;) To me that’s a good thing. It means that Dorothy is interested more in telling a good story than trying to maker her novel as scientifically plausible as possible. I did catch the subtle ecological messages in the book, but that was probably because I had recently watched “
The Last Winter”, a film about nature striking back at man ;)

CONCLUSION: I’ve always had a soft spot for dogs and other canines. In fact, I’ve written before about my dog Roosky—a beautiful half-Siberian Husky/half-wolf crossbreed—and some of my favorite books growing up in “Where the Red Fern Grows”, “White Fang”, and “Old Yeller”. So even though “Promise of the Wolves” plays it a little safe, borrows from recognizable fantasy/coming-of-age conventions, and leaves many issues unresolved, I was completely charmed by Dorothy Hearst’s debut and look forward to completing The Wolf Chronicles


Mihai A. said...

I should get to this book soon. I have a weak spot for dogs and wolves, too :)

Robert said...

I think you'll enjoy it :) It's a fast read...

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Sounds good! =] Nice review! :) I think I might be having this arrive soon.

The Book Swede

Anonymous said...

I really wanted to enjoy this book but I found the feminist take very irritating.

Anonymous said...

i really enjoyed the book. It really kept me interested that I could not put it down! My sister found it on Monday this week and once I read the preview I wanted to read it so bad! Once I finshed the book my mind wriling with questions. Wolves and cats are my favourite animals. This book also remind me of Warriors by Erin Hunter. With a code and rules and guidlines they had to follow. :) If there is a next one I cant wait!

Robert said...

Calibander, I didn't really think there was a feminist bent with the book. I mean I can see where you're coming from, but I think it depends on the reader...

Kymberleigh, thanks for sharing your thoughts and I'm glad you enjoyed the book so much!

Anonymous said...

I loved this book! i was so rapt i read it in 1 night! though i regretted it later. When I first saw it, it was actually on the back of a bus and after that i was determined to find out more about it. Do you if any of the sequels are out yet? if so what are they called and if not when are they coming out? :)

Robert said...

Anonymous, it is a great book :) No sequels yet, but the book is the first in the trilogy so you can expect at least two more novels to follow. Not sure of any release dates, but perhaps will see the next book in 2009 :D

Anonymous said...

I read this for a book report and just could not wait for the report to be dated. I immediately started reading it and could not believe how amazing it was! I felt like I was right in the book with the pack. I can't wait to read more books from this author.

Anonymous said...

I just got this book from libary. I love it so far. But thats me wolfie fan

Samantha said...

This book is the best book i have ever read! I cant wait for the second! Promise of the wolves had me laughing, crying and on the edge of my seat! i could not put it down. Thank you Dorothy Hearst.
Ill be screaming the day the second book comes out!

Anonymous said...

I love this book when will the seconed one be out? Im a huge Fan Dorothy Hearst.

Mel Moral said...

So in other words, the book is mainly about a wolf and a person that become friends, am I correct? Because if it is, then it's not identical to my story idead *phew*

Anonymous said...

I read it really fast, the book's amazing! I love wolves and I can't wait for the second book to come out!

Anonymous said...

im reading this book at the moment it totally changed me its so addictive i love it how many book s it thair or is it just the one????

Robert said...

Hi Wolf Lover! "Promise of the Wolves" is part of a trilogy. The second volume, titled "Secrets of the Wolves", will be published on August 2nd...

Anonymous said...

i havent read the book yet but i have to read it for a book report but the minute i looked at it and saw the preview i seem amazing can't wait XD

Anonymous said...

I have read promise of the wolves. It is an awsome book and makes me extremely eager to buy the sequel on amazon. It is a great book for people who love animals or wolves (like me). It is also a great length too. I love how the author makes me care very strongly for Kaala and her companions. I feel like snarling at whoever is mean to her. The author doesn't bias anything at all either, making this book even mre amazing. Highly reccomened.

Anonymous said...

For all that wonder:
Yes, there is a sequel called Secrets of the Wolves and the author is writing another one too.

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