by Pat Murphy
Tor Fantasy Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 0812590422
Date: 17 September 2001 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Amazon.com: Though Wild Angel, Pat Murphy's frontier fantasy, deals with both wolves and westward expansion, readers of her lycanthrope novel Nadya should not expect a retread. This playful homage to the Tarzan books and American tall tales travels a lighter, more sparkling road.
Set in the California gold country between 1850 and 1863, the novel follows the adventures of Sarah McKensie, orphaned at age 3 by a stagecoach robber. Sarah is adopted and nursed by the she-wolf Wauna (who has lost her litter of pups to the same brutal man) and is accepted into the wolf pack. As she matures, Sarah learns to assist in the pack's well-being by contributing human tools--a found knife, a bow and arrow, and a lariat stolen from a would-be cowpoke--to the hunt.
With her best friend and pack-sister Beka at her side, Sarah becomes a local legend--the Wild Angel of the Sierras, rescuer of imperiled travelers. Sarah's altruism is motivated less by compassion than by curiosity, bafflement by the settlers' inability to perceive the world around them, and a passion for biscuits.
Surrounding Sarah is a kaleidoscopic cast: an artist with a shady past; a young Indian shaman; a mesmerist-cum-temperance crusader; a circus impresario with a pack of poodles and an elephant named Ruby; a young woman on the lam from her strait-laced aunt; the hilarious fraternal order E Clampus Vitus (or "Clampers"); Samuel Clemens (in a brief and thwarted cameo); and, of course, two hiss-worthy villains--one human, one lupine.
Throughout this tale of coincidence, chance reunions, heroism, villainy, romance, revenge, and adventure, Murphy weaves deft comedic touches--including Sarah's unforgettable improvisation during a staging of "The Drunkard." Even the one continuity blip near the end of the novel reads not as authorial carelessness but as a knowing wink to the plot-and-character-juggling serial writers of the past.
Murphy has written Wild Angel as a novel by alter-ego/imaginary friend Max Merriwell written as Mary Maxwell. The conceit isn't necessary for enjoyment of the novel, but the three explanatory afterwords, by Maxwell, Merriwell, and Murphy, are pure jam.
Before embarking upon this delightful novel, readers would be well advised to check their realism at the door and adopt the motto of the Clampers--Credo Quia Absurdum, "I believe because it is absurd." --Eddy Avery
(Source: Tor Fantasy)