By Catherine Asaro
Time of the Wolf, by author Julie D’Arcy, is a dark fantasy with elements of romance. It tells the story of Lady Keahla of Dros-Delnoch and Radin Hawk, prince of the Wolfhead Clan. Keahla comes through a time portal that takes her 300 years into the future. Her goal: to find Radin. A prophecy has named him as the warrior who can lead her people in their fight against the tyranny of the sorceress Anayha.
D’Arcy makes entertaining plays on genre conventions as she sets up the plot. In the first scenes, Keahla is trying to escape slave traders who have followed her through the portal. She sees Radin up on a ridge and calls for help. In traditional stories, the heroic Radin would come dashing down the slope to her rescue; in more modern versions, Keahla would kick butt herself. Neither happens, though Keahla does show herself quite capable of applying her ambulatory appendages to good effect, here and later. Unfortunately, the reluctant Radin arrives too late, long after the slavers have hauled off Keahla. Radin doesn’t see her again until the slave auction. Noble hero that he is, he buys her for himself. Needless to say, none of this sits well with Keahla.
Eventually they work things out and Radin agrees to help, though at first he is motivated primarily by annoyance with Keahla’s blunt disbelief that he can save anyone, let alone her people. However, she takes him back through the portal and they join the rest of her party. So begins their quest to free Keahla’s land, the realm known as Tarlis.
D’Arcy creates a vivid world in Tarlis, with evocative descriptions and a good cast of characters. She has a knack for names, such as the elf Jarl, whose full name is the musical Jarlisendel Ballindoch. The prose is strong and moves well. I appreciated that it didn’t become purple or overdone in the love scenes. In a few places, it did become a bit melodramatic, but that was rare. I enjoyed the visual images D’Arcy created, particularly of places and people.
Some of the scenes in the book are especially powerful. In one, Anayha must make her way past an ensorcelled wall of roses. Having roses as demons is itself a clever twist on the usual floral arrangements as elements of beauty. The passage where Anayha converts herself into a monstrous rose creature to creep past the tangled vines is well done, chilling in its effect.
Time of the Wolf reminded me in some ways of Robin Wayne Bailey’s critically acclaimed Shadowdance, which placed on the Nebula preliminary ballot a few years ago. Both novels rely on the portrayal of a sorceress queen who requires the death of humans to keep her power. In Time of the Wolf, Anayha is a vampire; she must drink the blood of her lovers to maintain her youth and abilities. Rather than biting them, she cuts their throats. I have to confess, those scenes disturbed me. I didn’t want to see such appealing characters come to such harm! Of course, that shows that D’Arcy did a good job in drawing me into the characters and their situation. The plot line of the evil sorceress/mother also bothered the feminist in me. However, such tropes are part of the dark fantasy genre, D’Arcy knows how to use them well, and she doesn’t dwell on the violence.
The relationship between Keahla and Radin works well. The novel combines two genres often considered disparate: romance and dark fantasy. In D’Arcy’s capable hands, the blend succeeds, with the romantic elements balancing the darker aspects.
Time of the Wolf offers an absorbing read to fans of dark fantasy blended with other genres. D’Arcy is a strong voice with a great deal of promise.
Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Asaro
|Catherine Asaro writes hard SF space adventure and near future romantic thrillers. Her book, The Radiant Seas, came out in November 1999 and The Veiled Web in December 1999. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and has won various other awards, including the Analog Readers Poll and Compuserve’s HOMer.|