Wolf Who Rules
by Wen Spencer
Cover Artist: Kurt Miller
Review by Cathy Green
Baen Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416573814
Date: 30 October 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When we last saw Tinker, she had just saved Elfhome from a full scale invasion by the Oni by using the hyperphase interdimensional gate the Oni had forced her to build to destroy the orbital hyperphase gate that allowed for movement between Earth and Elfhome. This had the unintended side effect of trapping Pittsburgh permanently in Elfhome instead of phasing between worlds.
As the sequel, Wolf Who Rules opens with Tinker and her band of elfin bodyguards surveying the hazy quantum instability that used to be Turtle Creek. As it turned out, her plan to destroy the orbital gate only partly succeeded. The gate was knocked out of orbit but not destroyed and apparently crashed to Elfhome just outside of Pittsburgh while still "on", hence the quantum instability. In addition to trying to figure out how to fix the quantum discontinuity she caused, Tinker is coping with adapting to being an elf. Elfin customs and mores are quite different from those of humans and while an elf at Tinker's developmental stage would have had two hundred years or so to learn the appropriate customs and magicks, Tinker has been thrown in the deep end to learn how to swim. Also complicating matters is what Tinker learned while captive on Onihida in the first book in the series, Tinker. The Oni, along with their servants/slaves/spies, the Tengu (creatures originally made by the Oni through combining birds with primitive humans who had wandered to Onihida through interdimensional passageways from Earth) have infiltrated Elfhome to a much larger degree than previously suspected. There is a distinct possibility that a large portion of the human population of Pittsburgh previously though to be Asian-American may, in fact, be Tengu or half-Oni.
Then there is the issue of the status of Pittsburgh itself. Given that Pittsburgh is now permanently stuck in Elfhome, the elves consider the treaty between Earth and Elfhome null and void and all humans now subject to elven law. Moreover, in order to cope with the Oni crisis, Tinker's husband, Wolf Who Rules Wind, Viceroy of the Westernlands (which includes Pittsburgh) has had to seek assistance from the palace and the other clans. As a result Wolf may lose control of Pittsburgh and other parts of his territory to one of the other clans. In addition to reducing the status of Wolf and his clan, this puts Pittsburgh and its human population in jeopardy, as many of the other elves do not particularly like humans. Therefore, in addition to coping with the Oni problem, Wolf must spend a great deal of time worrying about plots and palace intrigue involving his fellow elves. As a result, Wolf does not have nearly as much time as he needs to help Tinker adjust to elven society, learn the clan spells and pick the elves of the Sekasha caste who will form her band of bodyguards/retinue. There is a lot going on in this book.
Tinker has been described as an urban fantasy, which makes sense, since the action took place in Pittsburgh. I would go further and describe Wolf Who Rules as an urban anthropological fantasy. Much like in anthropological science fiction where a human protagonist must make sense of the alien species on the planet on which he or she has landed, Tinker must learn to navigate elven society. And it is just as much a matter of life and death as it would be for the astronaut on a new world. Should Tinker say the wrong thing, someone could die or she could find herself bound to an impossible promise. Not to mention the fact that while she was raised on Elfhome, elves and humans did not mix that much, so Tinker is a human with human sensibilities in an elf body trying to navigate elven society. Evles, for instance, have rather different views on marriage and sex than humans. She must learn to rely on her sekasha, especially since her husband cannot be present to teach her due to the situation with the Oni. And if Tinker didn't have enough to cope with, being an elf has been giving strange prophetic dreams based on The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, and she learns that the friends and relatives who raised her have been lying to her for years about her family. Not surprisingly, all of this makes Tinker even more isolated and alienated.
It is very easy to get sucked into the fast-paced action as Tinker attempts to understand her origins, learn to be an elf, and help her husband defeat the Oni and hold onto her beloved Pittsburgh. With Wolf Who Rules, Wen Spencer has written a sequel that definitely surpasses the original. The only downside is that while Wolf Who Rules can be read without having first read Tinker, in this instance I would not recommend it. The sequel is more enjoyable and makes more sense if the reader has all the background information from the first book.