Book Description per Goodreads: Magic is an abomination. It spread from the Rift, a great chasm hundreds of miles long that nearly split the southern continent in two. The Rift was a portal, a gateway between their world of science and the mythological world of magic.
On the northern continent of Ocker, King Godwin declared that no magical monstrosity would be allowed within their borders. The Royal Inquisitors were formed to investigate reports of mystical occurrences and, should they be found, to destroy them.
Inquisitor Simon Whitlock knows his responsibilities all too well. Along with the apothecary, Luthor Strong, they’ve spent two years inquiring into such reports of magical abominations, though they’ve discovered far more charlatans than true magical creatures. When assigned to investigate Haversham and its reports of werewolves, Simon remains unconvinced that the rumors are true. What he discovers in the frozen little hamlet is that the werewolves are far more real than he believed; yet they’re hardly the most dangerous monster in the city
My Review: This was my first foray into steampunk fantasy, and I found it rather interesting. It wasn’t quite as “punk-ish” as I expected. It was definitely a Victorian-style world, with zeppelins and flame throwers and elevators and such, but it was hardly a Victorian Iron Man, if you will, with the focus on gadgets and engineering marvels. Perhaps this was due to the fantasy angle and the characters, who reminded me strongly of Sherlock Holmes (though his side-kick was a much younger, much more involved version of Watson). For the most part, Wolves of the Northern Rift is just a fantasy story set in a technologically-capable and scientifically-minded society. Here is a look at five categories of the novel: Characters, Narration, Content, Artwork, World-Building, and Overall Response.
- Characters. The characters were likeable and unique, I thought. Mr. Messenger managed to take the Sherlock-and-Watson stereotype and make the characters genuinely interesting. There were times when they didn’t feel consistent—Inquisitor Whitlock sometimes seems to like how overwhelmed other people by his title and yet he doesn’t really care for pomp and circumstance, in other moments—but for the most part, I thought they were well-written.
- Narration. I really enjoyed this part. The two main characters had good lines, and the witty exchanges were just fun. It was slow paced, at times, as the author went into details about the time period, from the oiled hair to the workings of an elevator, but I felt this added to the setting.
What I didn’t enjoy was the head-hopping, though. I liked the characters, and I didn’t mind getting more than one perspective on the story, but I didn’t like being jumped from one to the other without any indication such a jump was coming. We’d be with one character, and I’d expect to hear his thoughts on a new plot development, and suddenly I’d get the other character’s perspective. As an author, I know how easy it is to head-hop without meaning to. I did it on one of the older versions of my novels, because I knew what everyone thought or felt about everything, but because the reader isn’t privy to such omniscience, it gets really frustrating.
There was a good bit of info-dumping at the beginning and a great deal too much information for close narration, yet there was no narrator, so I think, in the author’s desire to inform us about the characters and their backstory, he just gave us information we didn’t absolutely need at that time to get the story off the ground.
It would be better without these problems, but this isn’t the author’s first novel, so I’m not sure if we can expect his writing to improve as the series progresses or not. Hopefully it will. His dialogue and characters were great, and I’d really enjoy reading more of his works without these distracting elements.
- Content. The book was very clean and would be appropriate, I think, for a Young Adult audience. There was no sex, no swearing or crudity (save a few Victorian counterparts), and plenty of action and mystery.
Some part, though, I didn’t care for. I wasn’t a huge fan of the transformation aspect of the werewolves, especially since female werewolves were often the ones doing the transforming and were left clothes-less, but the description remained tasteful. If you picture things while reading, as I try to do, it doesn’t need to be descriptive, though, and I wish the author could’ve found a way around that, but, in keeping with the science aspect, the transformation had to be physical and complete. (Another problem I had was I couldn’t picture wolves standing on their feet shooting rifles held by modified, thumb-like dew-claws, but that was an unavoidable side effect of the fantasy world Mr. Messenger created.)
There was magic in the novel, but it didn’t seem dark or heavily spiritual. It was a superpower, but there was nothing particularly mystical about it, and (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) while there are demons and werewolves, they didn’t come across as horribly dark and ominous.
- Artwork. The cover is very intriguing—a red-headed woman amidst white wolves and futuristic silo-looking things— and this was originally what got me hooked. However, I was frustrated by the fact that she doesn’t show up until a hundred pages in, and I started to wonder what she had to do with the plot. Also, the artwork above the chapter headings was a pocket watch which states it was patented in England, and that threw me a bit, because this was supposed to be a fantasy world where England doesn’t exist.
There is no map, but that didn’t bother me too much, since we pretty much stay in the town of Haversham. The title still confuses me, because while there is a great deal of talk about a southern rift, we don’t really discuss a northern rift, so I was left wondering if that really exists or not.
- World-Building. This part was a bit confusing, to me. The chapter artwork with its mention of England and the character’s costumes—sometimes Victorian, sometimes more Georgian than anything else, with powdered wigs that towered over other characters—made me uncertain what the fantasy world was really like. At one point, the characters react strongly to nakedness (a very Victorian response), and at other times, it’s shrugged off as no big deal. This could be because the characters are getting used to it by the end of the novel, but it felt a bit inconsistent all the same.
- Overall Response. The mystery was believable, and there were enough clues to get some idea of who the villain was and what he was doing. The ending was satisfactory (all loose ends were wrapped up), but this is the first of a series, and the epilogue makes it clear that there will be other books set in this same world, probably with the same characters.
Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren Photo by pedrojperez, Creative Commons