In Review: Spirit of the Wolves

A pleasing prehistory novel of wolves trying to help humans find their way in the world.

Spirit of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

Published by Simon & Schuster, December 2, 2014. Hardcover of 356 pages at $26.00.

The cover: A light brown background has the title in white and the author’s name in yellow-orange standing out. The only image is the outline of a wolf against an orange moon. This is not a very exciting cover and would get lost against other books. The photo of the moon is credited to MMPhotos/Getty Images and the wolf to Eric Isselle/Shutterstock. Having the wolf be shown in its entirety, rather than as a silhouette, would have been much more dramatic. This looks like a print-on-demand cover and not one from a major publisher. Overall grade: C-

The premise: From the inside jacket cover, “Fourteen thousand years ago in the Wide Valley, a young wolf named Kaala discovers that she alone can unite wolves and humans, and must do so for the survival of both species. In Promise of the Wolves and Secrets of the Wolves, Kaala came to understand her role. Born of a forbidden mixed-blood litter and abandoned by her mother, Kaala struggled to earn her place in the Swift River pack. When she saved the life of a human girl, she put her hard-won acceptance at risk, and responsibility for keeping peace between wolf and humankind fell to her. She failed. Now, in Spirit of the Wolves, Kaala has one last chance. She leaves her home in the Wide Valley with her young packmates, the human girl she loves, and an obnoxious raven. Together, they travel to the land beyond the valley to find her long-lost mother and a solution to the problems of the humans, only to discover that new challenges await them. Kaala’s mother has no answers, a faction of ruthless Greatwolves will stop at nothing to maintain control, odd little wolves seek to take Kaala’s place, and, in the mysterious village of Kaar, humans are undergoing a transformation that could destroy everything she is working for. Only by calling on all of her strength, and on the bonds of love with her human, raven, and wolf companions, can Kaala hope to succeed. In this compelling conclusion to The Wolf Chronicles, Kaala must decide how far she is willing to go for peace…when every step she takes leads wolfkind and humankind toward war.” I haven’t read the first two books in this trilogy, but this summary covered all the background I needed: wolf trying to keep peace between wolves and humans, having failed once before. Having this set in mankind’s past makes this very appealing. I’m interested. Overall grade: B

The characters: Kaala is the protagonist. The future of her race is at stake with every decision she makes. She feels the weight of the situation constantly, but is smart enough to use her peers, and human, when needed. This wolf was a completely rounded character. Having not read her previous two novels, I was impressed with how well Hearst had Kaala acting. She has full control of this character and it showed. One packmate of hers is Azzuen, who has no desire to lead the pack and will do anything he can for Kaala. It was fairly obvious that he was fond of her, and that desire to help her is his greatest strength. Also accompanying the wolves is Tlitoo, the raven. He flits in and out of the story, but he is not to be underestimated as he produces a major change in Kaala and is instrumental in the ending. Gaanin was the most interesting character to me because of his absolute focus, but to discuss him further would spoil what occurs. The human that set Kaala on her destiny is TaLi. She had the ability to speak to wolves, and this is unusual for a human to have. She is one of the last people to be able to do this, and she was being groomed to be the shaman for her tribe until her adventures with Kaala began. Not much is really given of humans because they are not the focus of this novel. TaLi is loyal to her wolf and would do anything to protect her and her pack. Causing difficulties for TaLi is DavRian, who was rejected by her. He’s been following her and will do anything to get her, including killing the pack. But the pack don’t have it any easier either, as they are being stalked/watched by a sect of Greatwolves, led by Milsindra, who believes that Kaala should be killed because she is the prophetic ruin of all wolves. When things start to go Kaala’s way something turns up to cause trouble and it’s usually Milsindra’s doing. Though their names were initially difficult to follow, by Page 50 I had no trouble keeping track of who was who because Hearst gives each individual distinct characteristics. Overall grade: A

The settings: This novel is set as mankind is determining to follow the path of nature and fit into it, or take dominance over all other creatures. This is prehistory. As such, the only structures are tents made of animal hides. The landscape is lush or barren, depending on where the characters go. Imagine any place a wolf would be and it’s in this book. The description of the village and its surroundings were vivid. I enjoyed the forest and the river where some fishing occurs. There is also a supernatural setting that lifts the book into the realm of fantasy, but not of dungeons and dragons, but one that seamlessly fits into the plot. I found this location wonderfully eerie. Overall grade: A

The action: There’s a lot of start and stop action. Much of the plot deals with characters learning things, so there are several chapters where characters talk with others. Being wolves, the characters also have to travel distances to talk with others. This kept the first two hundred pages hit and miss for me. However, the final third of the book moved very rapidly, culminating in epic quality. The highpoint action scene involves a hunt for a massive land animal that hunts humans. Very exciting. Overall grade: B 

The conclusion: Dorothy Hearst waits until the last six pages to give the final fate of Kaala, and it’s a good one. There are several dramatic sequences where many lives are lost, but others surprisingly saved. I was very impressed with this conclusion. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: A pleasing prehistory novel of wolves trying to help humans find their way in the world. Telling the tale from a wolf’s point of view is a terrific way to have readers consider where each creature fits into the larger scheme of the world. Worth checking out. Overall grade: A-

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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