Everything I’d expect from Douglas Smith!
I don’t read a lot of paranormal stuff. I prefer aliens, which to me are usually more plausible than vampires and werewolves. I don’t believe in magic or ghosts (much to the horror of many of my friends) and I think zombies are a horrifying fad and impossible! There are some interpretations of lore I like, though, and some authors I will read, almost regardless of what the story is. Douglas Smith and his debut novel, The Wolf At The End Of The World, fill both criteria.
Douglas Smith writes amazing short stories. When invited to read his debut novel and upon learning it was based on his award-winning short story Spirit Dance, I eagerly agreed. I finished the book last night. Douglas will, no doubt, be happy to know the last twenty pages were an emotional experience (read: messy), which is always what elevates a book from four to five stars for me. I love a story that hits all the emotional buttons from laughter to tears. When that happens, it goes without saying the writing is good and the story is engaging, the characters are deep enough to make me feel.
So, the story. The snippet on the back of the book pretty much covers it: A shapeshifter hero battles ancient spirits, a covert government agency, and his own dark past in a race to solve a murder that could mean the end of the world.
The shape-shifting hero is Gwyn Blaidd, whom I first met in ‘Spirit Dance’. He is Heroka, which is an Ojibwe term for shape-shifter. He happens to shift to a wolf, that is his ‘totem’. Other Heroka shift into other creatures. Their companion animal or pawakan, will offer a clue to their totem, which is usually a family of animals. The way the Heroka lore is tied into that of the Ojibwe and the Cree makes it almost plausible. While reading this book and after putting it aside, I had the feeling there were men and women up in Canada who could talk animals and shift into animal form. I believed in Wisakejack and Ed’s power as a Shaman.
In his introduction, Charles de Lint touches on the same points and the same feeling. It’s the interweaving of lore and ideas that gives this novel so much substance. Douglas does not stop there, though. He has also written a cautionary tale. He has used the tradition of storytelling — detailed so beautifully in the book when Zach visits Wsakejack — to offer a warning about our impact on the environment.
Zach is a special character, a young blind boy who is central to every plot. His story arc had wonderfully unexpected turns. Though this is undoubtedly Gwyn’s novel, there were many other characters who also shone brightly. The aforementioned Ed, for instance. I absolutely adored his role and Caz was a trip. Blue hair, nose rings, attitude and all. I highlighted quite a few of her lines as I read. I also highlighted some of Mary’s. The girl had spunk and her return to Thunder Lake was a welcome surprise.
Given the number of awards Douglas has won for his short stories, it’s hardly surprising he’s written such a fabulous book and it’s lovely to be able to say so, unreservedly. I really enjoyed The Wolf At The End Of The World and I’m happy to have a copy to put on my shelf. With adventure, intrigue, shape-shifters, family, a touch of romance and a lot of heart, this is a book I’d recommend for readers of all genres.
Written for and originally posted at SFcrowsnest.