Review by Joel Kreissman
Jeremy Newton’s A Wolf Asunder is roughly the size of a Lord of the Rings novel, but it moves so quickly I barely noticed the length. The first of the author’s Shadow Wolves series, it takes place in a high-tech kingdom of lupine anthros called “wolfen” divided between four tribes.
We open with the protagonist, a “Fenrir” super soldier of the Feron tribe named Kaltos, as he receives an order from Warlord Fennis to slaughter a patrol from another tribe. If you’re having trouble keeping all the “fe” names straight, you’re not alone. Realizing that carrying out that order would start a war between the tribes, Kaltos defies orders and deserts, crossing the border and turning himself in to the neighboring tribe. From there he gets embroiled in inter-tribal politics that take him to the capital and a meeting with the young queen. Then they work out a plan to head off a war embroiling all four tribes by letting Kaltos take the fall for the incident, though the queen’s attempt to shield him from real punishment is partly derailed. And that’s just halfway into the volume; afterwards there’s a two-year timeskip where Kaltos has taken up work as an anonymous caravan guard, until he accidentally draws the crown’s attention again.
While on a job, Kaltos comes across across an older male wolfen beating a younger female and decides to put a stop to it. Unfortunately the male turns out to be a politician Kaltos met after his defection and he files a complaint that threatens to expose the queen’s ruse. Said politician is soon found dead in his apartment, but his daughter Jezelaire becomes obsessed with the rogue Feron who saved her. When Jez and the royal guard track him down Kaltos decides he’s done hiding and enlists their aid in building his own private army, the Shadow Wolves referenced in the series title.
While this book bills itself as the start of a series, it could have easily been split into two, if not three novels by itself. The size of the volume aside, Kaltos’ trial seemed a natural stopping point even before the timeskip, after the timeskip it feels like an entirely separate episode in the series with all the new characters and events. I will admit it was an entertaining read with more action than many Schwarzenegger movies, and I will be looking out for the next installment. Kaltos seems to have a few “cliche action hero” traits, such as being practically unbeatable in a fight, oblivious to every female character crushing on him, and an unusual eye color (green), though some of it is justifiable by his being essentially a lupine version of Master Chief. Taken from his family at a young age and subjected to surgical and genetic modifications that made him very strong, but killed half his class, and given elite training that left him no time for a social life. At one point he claims that the Fenrir project made him unable to develop feelings for anyone, but next chapter he runs halfway across town into battle with another Fenrir to save Jezelaire.
Newton seemed to be building the world as he wrote; I thought the four tribes were separate political entities until the royal guard showed up. I’m still unclear whether the world is post-apocalypse or somehow developed gas engines and genetic engineering with a quasi-feudal government that considers ranged weapons “dishonorable.” I will say that the Feron tribe seems to be an effective deconstruction of the “proud warrior race” trope, everybody else hates them and the only place they seem to be advanced is in unethical biomedical experiments, while their leader wants to start a war he’s unlikely to win.
In all, A Wolf Asunder is an entertaining read, despite whatever flaws the story and characters might have. Kaltos’ arc is clearly not complete, and I’ll be keeping watch for the next installment.