Book Cover
Title Wolf at the End of the World
Series ---
Author Douglas Smith
Cover Art Jean-Pierre Normand
Publisher Lucky Bat Books - 2013
First Printing Lucky Bat Books - 2013
Category Fantasy
Warnings None

Main Characters

Gwynn Blaidd, Zach, Caz, Wisakejack
Main Elements Heroka, folklore

A shapeshifter hero battles ancient spirits, a covert government agency, and his own dark past in a race to solve a murder that could mean the end of the world.

The Heroka walk among us. Unseen, unknown. Shapeshifters. Human in appearance but with power over their animal totems.

Gwynn Blaidd is a Heroka of the wolf totem. Once he led his people in a deadly war against the Tainchel, the shadowy agency that hunts his kind. Now he lives alone in his wilderness home, wolves his only companions.

But when an Ojibwe girl is brutally killed in Gwynn's old hometown, suspicion falls on his former lover. To save her, Gwyn must return, to battle not only the Tainchel, but even darker forces: ancient spirits fighting to enter our world...

And rule it.

Cree and Ojibwe legends mix with current day environmental conflict in this fast-paced urban fantasy that keeps you on the edge of your seat right up to its explosive conclusion.

When I saw that Charles de Lint was recommending this book (who wrote Wolf Moon that I absolutely adore), and this was a fellow Canadian author, I thought I would give it a try.

I love the way Smith weaved Native American religion and folklore into a modern day setting. As Smith noted, it is no small challenge to write about a culture that is not your own, especially when your people oppressed the ones about which you are now writing. The topic must be handled with care and it was.

In this story we meet the Heroka, shapeshifting humans with a strong connection their animal totems and the natural world in general. We also have the Windigo, creatures which can possess a man and are the true embodiement of hunger. And of course there are the spirits, in particular the trickster Wisakejack whom you can never quite be sure which side he's one (aren't Trickster tales fun?). Add to that a special branch of CSIS who is hunting the Heroka, shamans, a potential environmental disaster, and a handful of humans caught in the middle and you have quite the tale.

I've read a lot of books based on Greek and other European mythologies but so rarely does one come across the myths and legends of the Native Amerians, which is a pity as their stories are as rich, if not more so. They have another mystical level to it, with a tight connection to the environment and the animals that inhabit it. As Wisakejack points out, humans are dependent on all aspects of the natural world, but nothing in the world is dependent on us. And there are spirits out there that think the world would be better off without us making a mess of things.

The characters were wonderful. Gwyn the disillusioned Heroka, Zack the blind boy whose mother works for the man that with religious ferver hunts the shapeshifters. Caz the teenager who has had a rough life making for a prickly personality, Ed the kind shaman and storyteller who needs to draw on his beliefs he maybe wasn't so sure he really believed in. And Wisakjack, who is just as capable of making mistakes as he is in tricking others to do the same. Everyone flawed, each needing to rise to their potential, to find their purpose in vast interconnected web of the world.

Well researched, there was only little thing that bothered me. Caz is of the rodent totem but the animal she can turn into is an otter. While otters are small and furry mammals, they are not rodents, but of the family Mustelidae of the order Carnivora. So it was a bit weird when she was afraid of Gwyn, not because he was a wolf or big predator but because he was a "carnivore" when she herself was one. A minor issue but for some reason got stuck in my head.

I also felt the environmental moral was a bit overdone. I don't know, maybe because as a kid when I'd get together with my cousin we'd raise money for Greenpeace or WWF, read all kinds of books on how we could help the environment, studied endangered animals. But somewhere along the way, while never giving up on the environment and the desire to save its vast diversity, I got kind of tired of big bad humans messing up their world. We aren't the only animals that destroy their environments, just saw a documentary about prairie dogs that when their populations get too big they end up starving. While on a much smaller scale, its little different to what we are doing to ourselves...of course we're supposed to be smart enough to know better. But in the end, the Earth will survive, perhaps not as we know it, but frankly, the Earth itself probably finds the biosphere to be an odd growth on its skin which if it had hands it might scratch off. So don't get me wrong, I still turn off the lights when I leave a room, take public transit, and the like, after all, I still need to live on this planet, but I don't need to be told once more how bad people are good and perfect animals are. It's a lot more complicated than that. After all, North Americans can look in horror at what people are doing to the Amazon rainforest, or the killing of animals in Africa, but if you're starving, suddenly the well being of a rhino or a bunch of trees just doesn't matter. You've got to do what you need to do to keep your kids alive.

I also found the CSIS character Jonas just didn't come off as believable to me. I find it hard to believe that CSIS would be hunting down Heroka even if they did exist, mainly because it didn't seem like CSIS cared, it was a personal vendetta of Jonas'. Though was kind of cool to have a CSIS story, a Canadian can get bored hearing about the CIA all the time.

The ending was a bit predictable too, I kind of figured what Zach was, though of course could not be sure until the end. On the other hand, I never got tired of Wisakejack! And the Windigo were seriously creepy, some nights I couldn't read it before I went to bed.

But all in all, I want to know more about Gwynn (like why does he have a celtic name?) and the Heroka and Native American folklore so I might try to dig up the short story that lead to this novel, "Spirit Dance".

Posted: December 2013


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