Author: Tamora Pierce
Originally Published in May 1994
Review by Miriam Atkinson
The wolf clan Danae befriended as a child are in trouble. Their new home, Dunlath, is being destroyed by humans. So Danae and her mage friend Numair, travel to Dunlath in an attempt to save the valley from a deadly plot. The task is made harder when a magical barrier separates the two friends, with Danae trapped inside the valley and Numair stuck outside. As Danae calls upon the animals of Dunlath to help her, she realises that she is also trapped with mages who have the ability to summon Immortals to aid their cause.
Unlike the prequel novel Wild Magic that took place across the kingdom of Tortall, Wolf-Speaker is a self-contained story which takes place entirely within Dunlath. While I enjoyed the world building of the first novel, by setting Wolf-Speaker in one place author Tamora Pierce is able to create a more detailed and insightful look at both the social and ecological dynamic that exists within Dunlath and between its inhabitants. The single location also helps to further highlight Danae’s predicament once she is trapped in Dunlath. As readers we too must wait with Danae to discover exactly what is happening within the valley.
One of the things Wolf-Speaker does well is that it builds upon plot threads set up in the previous novel. So far readers have seen Danae uses her wild magic ability to heal and communicate with animals. In the second novel Danae learns to take her link with animals a step further and slip into the minds of her animals friends, which allows her to see and hear everything they do. This is a clever plot device as the ability allows Danae to spy upon her enemies from far away. I was thankfully Pierce decided that Danae would not be gifted with this ability overnight. In fact we follow Danae for several chapters as she practices and perfects her new ability with some unforeseen consequences. This gradual learning enables the development of Danae’s magic to feel like a natural progression of her ability rather than a rushed plot convenience to help the story along.
The plot thread of the Immortals is also developed. Once again the Stormwings are an important presence within the story, this time led by Rikash Moonsword. Readers are also introduced to Hurrocks (evil flying horses), Coldfangs (hunter lizards), Basilisks, Ogres and the baby dragon Skysong whom Danae adopted after the events of Wild Magic (sorry, spoilers!). This expansion to the pre-existing lore is excellent and I greatly enjoyed reading about the new Immortals – Skysong and the Basilisk Tkaa are my favourite new additions to the series. But Wolf-Speaker does more than introduce the reader to new creatures; it also poses an interesting question that we and Danae must answer. Who is the real enemy – the Immortals or the humans who command them? Or are both equal antagonists? In the first novel it was obvious which characters were the heroes and which were the villains but in the second novel the right answer is not always as clear. I firmly believe the novel is stronger because it forces the reader to think about what we would do in Danae’s situation, rather than the novel simply guiding the reader through the story.
If I had to give the novel one criticism it is that for me the story is filled with too many characters. As readers we learn the name of almost every animal and human Danae encounters so by the end of the novel there are a lot of characters to keep track of. While it is in-character for Danae to ask the name of every creature she encounters, many characters remain two-dimensional with little detail other than name and appearance. This is particularly true for several members of the wolf pack and a couple of the human mage antagonists. I think if Wolf-Speaker had had fewer characters then there would have been more space to develop even further both the world of Tortall and those characters central to the plot and the overall series.
Wolf-Speaker is an excellent second entry into The Immortals Quartet. As a reader it was a delight to see more of the world we were first introduced to in Wild Magic as well as continuing to see favourite characters develop. Once again it was a book I enjoyed when I was younger and one that continues to entertain me today.