I have to admit, my memory of Wolf Who Rules has blended into the book that comes before it (Tinker, which I reviewed last week) and the next one in the series (Elfhome). As you might expect from such a situation, if you liked Tinker you’ll almost certainly like Wolf Who Rules.
I can extricate the details of the plot with some additional focus, but the stories all pile together, following one another so closely that it is not easy to tell where one ends and the next begins. Little is done to ease you back into the story beyond a few quick info drops, but this also means that if you’ve just read Tinker you’ll easily slide along into this one without any sense of confusion. Without one of the sometimes ponderous prolonged reintroductions that are so common to a series, Wolf Who Rules whisks you straight into the next adventure.
Tinker the audacious heroine returns, and is forced to face the consequences of her actions from the first book. As the title suggests, Wolf Who Rules shows up again as well (in case you haven’t read the first one, yes, that’s the name of a character). More interestingly, Wolf also gets a number of chapters which follow him rather than Tinker. While I’m not especially excited by him as a character, I do like having his perspective on things; Wolf offers an outside view of Tinker’s utterly madcap solutions and his perspective showcases just how nutty some of Tinker’s solutions seem to everyone else around her. Speaking of which, I’m impressed by how well Wen Spencer follows on the chaos created by Tinker earlier. Few of Tinker’s earlier projects ended without complications of one sort or another, and Wen Spencer capitalizes on the law of unintended consequences with a single-minded focus that I admire.
Unfortunately, there were yet again several points at which I felt that the story fell into deus ex machina. Some of them simply seemed like they were the highly improbable events which follow heroes of all stripes, but several seemed to fall into the category of improperly signaled iterations of Chekov’s Magical-Gun-Analogue. A little more foreshadowing of the abilities called upon in the moments of crisis would have been nice.
I might be more forgiving of such lapses (they crop up frequently in adventure fiction) if there weren’t so many small details interwoven through the books, connecting the various characters, their previous actions, and especially the unintended consequences of their actions. I loved the attention to detail, especially because such intricate design is not typical to the genre, but it also made the moments of deus ex machina all the more startling. They’re usually explained after the fact, but that doesn’t quite feel the same.
Having said all that, I did still enjoy the book. It was a good deal of fun, and made a snappy sequel to Tinker. The same themes of abuse and control are present, but it’s also pretty clear that they are part of the background of the setting: more on that topic will follow with some other *SPOILERS*
The setting background is something that is never explained until after Tinker learns of it, even when it follows the perspectives of other characters. This is intriguing and at times frustrating, but on the whole I think that it is well done. What you don’t learn until long after it has become relevant is that the Elves (and the Oni, in fact) were the product of many long years of breeding and magic, with all of the distasteful sexual politics that one might expect from a world in which nearly everyone is both chattel and part of a breeding program following a most frightening form of eugenics. Spencer doesn’t hold back, and instead follows through on the premise of her setting regardless of how disquieting it is.
On an unrelated note, I was a little worried by Tinker’s fragility throughout the book. She’d been established as a badass in the last book, and it seemed like that was being taken away from her. But I was glad to see that she came out as a badass again, and her fragility seemed justified in the end; you find out part way through that she hasn’t slept in days and that her few sleeping moments are plagued by disturbing and prophetic dreams which are not entirely her own. If that wouldn’t leave you a wreck, I’m not sure what would.
Anyway, as I said before, if you liked the first book you’ll like this one too. I certainly enjoyed it.