Review by Roz Gibson
This is your classic animal fantasy novel in the “tradition of” (as they like to say in book blurbs) Watership Down. But instead of common European animals, the book features the trials and tribulations of a pack of African hunting dogs (aka Painted Dogs, or Cape Hunting Dogs). This book has a distinct African flavor, with Afrikaans or native names for the characters, and all the flora and fauna painstakingly identified.
Wait a Season for Their Names is the story of alpha female Aalwyn, her mate Grootboom, and their pack, composed of subordinate sisters and brothers of the two alphas. The title refers to the heavy mortality of pups, most of whom don’t survive their first season. Life is hard in the African bush. Prey is sometimes difficult to find. Hyenas and lions steal their kills and threaten their pups. When an exceptionally aggressive male lion, Moordenaar, enters their territory, they’re forced to leave and take a dangerous trek to find a safer place to call home.
Towards the beginning of the story, the pack is joined by a wandering older male named Blackthorn, who ingratiates himself by providing desperately needed food. His help proves invaluable during the journey (It would’ve been nice to have a map) which takes them from Botswana to Zimbabwe to Mozambique, through war-torn lands and farms.
Along the way they encounter all the problems facing wild dogs (referred to in the book as wolves or painted wolves). Chief among them is rabies, which the characters refer to as The Rage. It’s made clear early on that Aalwyn and a couple of the other characters were given an oral vaccine by some park rangers, but the rest of the pack is vulnerable, and every village dog or strange wolf is suspect. There’s also internal strife, as two of the pack want to breed, something that only the alpha pair is allowed to do.
Other than rabies, humans present the biggest danger. There are hazardous roads to cross, poachers and poison to avoid, and angry farmers with guns. In some areas they cross the land is so barren and desertified there’s nothing to eat at all except hares and wandering cattle left to fend for themselves after the farmers were killed by civil strife. But preying on cattle, even stray ones, can have dire consequences.
Because this is meant to be a realistic animal novel (talking wolves not withstanding), the plot is episodic, without a driving goal other than finding a safe place to live. Most of the characters do behave in a realistic way, sometimes even shocking (such as Aalwyn’s treatment of wayward pack members). But there’s also some artistic liberty taken, such as a scene where Aalwyn bites through a chain. Unless it was a decorative necklace chain, I don’t think that was happening. . . . They also seem a lot more willing to take on dangerous foes like lions and hyenas mano a mano than real-life painted wolves, although wolves in this story do get injured and killed during those fights.
Overall, this is not the best of the genre, on level with masterpieces like Watership Down and Garry Kilworth’s Hunter’s Moon, but it is a decent and interesting work. And it’s nice to see this type of book set outside Europe and North America for a change. Definitely recommended for fans of talking animal fiction, as well as anyone who is interested in stories with an African setting. There is a sequel, with the cheerful title of Death Will Know My Name, but I have not read it (yet).