The Short Version:
Plot: Men bond with wolves and bash trolls.
High point: Interesting man/wolf pack dynamics and well-developed
Warnings: If a man is bonded to a wolf, and the wolf is in heat...
The Longer Version:
It's always interesting to read a book by two authors and compare how
the style differs from books by one or the of the authors alone. I've
read most of Ms. Monette's longer work (she also writes short stories,
and those are harder to track down), but unfortunately nothing by Ms.
Bear alone. One aspect of Ms. Monette's style that was suppressed in
"A Companion to Wolves" is her tendency to let interesting characters
suddenly drop out of the story. In her other works, characters that
we spend a couple of chapters getting to know will leave the
protagonists to wander off on their own, and we never hear from them
again. The problem is that readers trained by other fantasy writers
will expect these minor characters to come back and be important later
in the series, and it's jarring to realize, that, no, the character is
not coming back, he's exited stage left and the actor went home. In
"A Companion to Wolves" there is no character that one would expect to
come back but who doesn't. The minor characters have a very clean
exit strategy: they get killed by trolls.
The book is essentially two stories running in parallel. The more
action oriented story is about a brotherhood of warriors who eschew
family ties and bond with wolves and protect the rest of humanity from
the trolls. This is similar to Lois McMaster Bujold's "Sharing Knife"
series, with the Lakewalkers and the malices, and, like the "Sharing
Knife" series, killing stuff isn't the most important part of the book.
The other half of the book is the second story about how the main
character first adjusts to being bonded to a wolf and then takes on the
role of keeping the organization together and making sure that natural
jockeying for position doesn't turn into a vicious intra-pack battle.
The book is a stand-alone one, although the idea of a sequel has been
discussed. It's fairly fast-paced---it covers maybe 5 years (I wasn't
really counting) in 300 pages. I've read complaints about the
character names, and will only say that I had to pause sometimes to
figure out whether this particular character whose name begins with H
was the main character's mother, lover, leader or teacher. The
scenery isn't much to write home about, but the characters are
excellent. This is the opposite of some of the classic science
fiction I've been reading, where the scenery is interesting, but the
characters never make the jump from living in the book to running
around inside my head. As a last note, the book really isn't for
readers who get squeamish when sex is written about in more detail
than "and then they retired to the bedroom (period, end of scene)."