My rating: Meh. Liked the place, but the food was bad (2/5)
I was very disappointed in this book. The plot and the story had such potential, and I always want to read more stories about young women bonded to wolves in fantasy worlds, but the writing and narration in this book just didn’t work for me.
A style choice made by the author drew me out of the story again and again: the multiple, mixed narrators and points of view. From one sentence to the next, it seems, the perspective switches unpredictably between characters. Between characters who are sitting next to each other, interacting with each other, and between characters who are in different parts of the world. I found it very difficult to tell where one character’s perspective left off and another’s began, which was confusing and distracting. Little of the story is actually told from the point of view of the “protagonist,” young Isaura, misfit healer and archer who introduces us to the story, and main character in the description of the book.
Which brings me to my next point, that the amount of time Isaura spends senseless really diminished my interest in the story. If she is the main character, I expect to read about her thinking, saying, and doing things – not sleeping. Further, there was little explanation for why she kept slipping into a deep sleep, without even dreams. Isaura is essentially the cause of all the action that happens in the latter two-thirds of the novel, and yet she spends most of the story off-stage. I really prefer a protagonist that does things, takes action, fights, learns magic, travels cross country, or lives in disguise.
Most of the characters felt stiff and two-dimensional. The story seemed spread too thin between too many characters and narratives. Nicanor is the wise, steady leader; Curro the kind husband blind to his wife’s jealousy; Elena the jealous, malignant wife imagining her husband’s infidelity; Pio the child prodigy; Umniga the sharp, wise old woman… On top of that, many of the characters came with stock romantic relationships, too. Each relationship felt very similar, each couple deeply in love, and when they weren’t already in love, insta-love developed between characters. The characters and their relationships overall were just too simplistic for my tastes.
I was interested in two or three of the characters: the leader of the Horse clan, Karan, the wise old woman, Umniga, and a young warrior woman, Asha – but even their narratives were pushed to the side by other characters’s perspectives. And Asha’s romantic arc is abrupt and under-developed.
While I enjoyed some of the characters, and feel the plot and world building really do have potential, the abrupt, un-signaled narrative switches and the off-stage protagonists left me feeling very unsatisfied with this story. I would have liked it more if there had been a narrative focus on four of the characters – Asha, Karan, Umniga, and Isaura – and if Isaura had had more life to her.
If these things don’t bother you, you might enjoy Altaica. If they do, check out the recommended reads below.
*Review e-copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Wild Magic, my favorite story about a young woman who bonds with wolves, by my favorite childhood author, Tamora Pierce, is an excellent alternative. Daine was forced to leave her home when it was burned to the ground by bandits. With her unusual talents, she becomes outcast in her small village. She goes to the local fair to find work, and ends up journeying to the capital city of Tortall, where she finds work as a groom at the palace. Along the way, she meets the lady knight, Alanna, and a mage who becomes her teacher. And then she has the best adventures.
In Path of Fate by Diana Pharaoh Francis, the heroine chooses not to become the divine Chosen One/servant, bonded to a divine Chosen animal. It’s similar to Altaica in the human-animal bonded pairings, as well as in the travel, light/potential romance, and in the magical, historical fantasy world.
With a very different feel to it, Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara may not seem that related at first, but it has the unusual heroine, who stands out from the rest of her associates and friends because she has strange, hidden origins. Also, there’s a bit of potential romance and some not-quite-humans, who have animal traits. It’s a fantastic world, full of action and intrigue, and so fast-paced and interesting I couldn’t put it down, and am impatiently waiting for time to read the second in the series.