The fabulous Derek Thomas Conrad has invited me here so I can share my thoughts on recent speculative fiction novels. My name is Jess Flarity and I am the co-organizer of our local writer’s group here in the Pacific NW. I’m also a Naked Lunch writer, so I’ll be reviewing books with a very scrutinizing lens. For example, imagine that you are the person who wrote this book (if that is you, hello!), and now I’m offering you direct thoughts from the lit fuse of my writer’s mind, just as if you had submitted the whole book for a critique session. But you better watch out, because this review is gonna go
Of course, every author has already done what I have not—legitimately published a novel—so I’m analyzing their works with a magnifying glass as a way to improve my own writing (and maybe yours?). The internet has done some weird things to our collective concept of honesty, so unlike the Twitter, Goodreads, or Amazon reviews, it is my hope to leave my raw, naked thoughts here. It may end up looking like a bomb went off, so I’ll stick to three big “+” things that the author does great, and the three big “Δ” ideas I wish the author would have changed. Let’s begin!
Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells is as tasty as a Saturday morning cartoon. Here are the +’s:
+ Snarky dialogue
Pow! Wells excels here, especially with Hob Ravani. The interactions between the characters feel genuine, even when I’m scratching my head at some of the setting details. The dialect and swearing are spot-on.
+ World building
The planet of Tanegawa’s world feels like a real place. I had a mental map in my head of where everything was, even though a physical map wasn’t included at the beginning of the book. It’s a desert world, but Wells avoids any direct comparisons to Arrakis by giving the reader a nice variety of topography, and it’s clear the author has done their geological homework.
Every character is fun and unique, even some of the “B”-list biker types. Not everybody is a kick-ass action hero, lending some reality into the more cartoon-ish aspects of the story in the villages, especially with Mag.
Now it’s time for the explosion. The Δ’s.
I saw in the Acknowledgements section of the book that Wells spent 11 years and 8 drafts on this work, so I’m a bit mystified as to how her various alpha-readers (and editors?) didn’t catch some parts of this book that I, as a writer/reader, thought needed rehashing. Either way it’s too late now, but here’s what I would have wanted to see:
Δ An explanation for the “witchiness”
This was a big letdown for me as a reader. I enjoy speculative fiction because of the unveiling of the mystery, but the mystery of Tanegawa’s world isn’t ever unraveled. Instead, we’re given some “lamp shady” dialogue from the Bone Collector as to how the people are part of the planet or some such. This explanation didn’t feel satisfying for me, and about halfway through the reading, I felt like I was playing a slot machine and there was no chance of winning the jackpot.
Δ The Bone Collector is God
Got a problem? Bone Collector can fix it. I enjoyed his character as a separate entity, but he became the author’s magic wand for fixing problems. This makes Hob a tiny bit more passive than I would have liked, and aside from her fierce personality, I can’t think of her doing anything particularly clever as a heroine, which was disappointing.
Δ Inconsistent technology sure is convenient…
This was the biggest issue for me as a reader. The planet’s “erratic magnetic fields” fry technology (or something), which is a great way for Wells to get people on motorcycles and have them chasing trains or whatever, but it always felt like a way to make things purposefully backward for “nostalgic action” purposes rather than as a critical part of the story. The quasi-scientist in me finds this detail dubious at best, and again, the lack of an explanation made me want to throw the book across the room.
Overall, would I recommend Hunger Makes the Wolf? My score would be:
It depends on what you like.
I like my science fiction with clearer science than this and I like my action with more intense action than this, so this book was a wash for me. I can tell Wells was trying to write a Mad Max-style series of bad-ass action sequences, but overall it failed to ignite my interest. The author has somehow managed to write a story about bikers in space and barely include any kick-ass motorcycling scenes! They’re mostly driving the bikes from place to place and the main story line is about a mercenary group fighting off the big bad corporation, which is a story I’ve already read a hundred times.
In the end, this book left me hungry…and with Duran Duran stuck in my head.
P.S. If the author didn’t want to “explain everything” because they’re planning on turning this book into a series, they can enjoy their time on the Tree of Thorns.