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Promise of the Wolves

February 16, 2009

TO JOIN THE PACK, OR NOT

Promise of the Wolves, Dorothy Hearst, Simon & Schuster, 352 pp., $25

Born to an exiled mother and a father she never knew, Kaala struggles to prove her bravery to her elders. Their leader, Ruuquo, is especially reluctant to accept her. Kaala’s elders believe she is at the center of a mysterious prophecy.

Competition for the space and resources of the valley is getting tougher. It’s hard to know which alliances to form and which former enemies to trust. But, even as Kaala struggles to find her place with her own kind, she feels pulled toward a deeper connection that goes against everything she has been taught.

Kaala is a wolf. In this engrossing story, the fact that most of the central characters are wolves hardly registers as strange.

Strong, believable conflict drives this mythical coming-of-age tale. Dorothy Hearst beautifully depicts animals as credible characters. Her keen sense of the physicality of social interaction among wolves enlivens Kaala’s experience of the hunt. Kaala’s longing to prove herself worthy translates well to human emotion, while maintaining the integrity of wolf culture.
Kaala’s bond with Ta Li, a young human girl, defies taboos from both their elders. (The cautious start of a bond between wolves and humans is part of a larger story Hearst intends to unfold in two planned sequels to this book.)

Constant negotiation of a partnership between wolves and humans allows Hearst to spin her own vivid mythology. In prehistory, the wolf became the domesticated dog. Hearst’s version depicts a partnership, rooted in the spiritual lives of wolf and human.
That this is a tough genre to pull off makes it a wonderful first installment in a trilogy that is apt to have strong appeal to fans of “Clan of the Cave Bear” or “Watership Down.” Even those who read these classics under protest will be drawn into this vivid, character-driven plot.

Elizabeth Willse is a freelance writer from Manhattan.

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