Way back in 2018, during the peak of the Game of Thrones madness I found myself needing to find an outlet for my excitement and ever wandering mind. It was then that I came across Leo Carew’s debut novel The Wolf and it was just the backscratcher I needed to reach that itch. Leo Carew is an British author whom has in 2020 become a doctor. I know I’m not alone when I say we thank you Leo for your work, especially during these trying times of a global pandemic. The Wolf is a story about the devastating effects of war between two nations and the repercussions it will bring not only for the army and members of power but also the women, children, and cities at large. Ambitious is how I would describe this novel, but it does have some shortcomings overall. Epic fantasy fans will feel right at home here.
The story takes place in the land of Albion where the warm southern lands of Suthdal are looking to start an old rivalry again with the Black kingdoms of the North. Soon an invasion takes place and the two armies will clash in an all out war. We follow three main POV characters over the coarse of a military campaign. The first character Roper, son of the Black Lord and forced to take his fathers place after he falls in battle. With no experience of what it entails to become a leader, Roper has to think on his feet quickly in order to combat the enemies from outside his home city and within. The second POV we follow is Uvoren, an elite warrior and head of the sacred guard. Uvoren feels that Roper is underserving of the Black Lord title and will form alliances and scheme to gain the throne. The final POV character we will follow is Bellamus of the southern kingdoms. Born into low status in the capital, he proves to be a military genius and is looking to raise his stature by invading the Northern Kingdoms for his own gain. Bellamus has also caught the eye of the Queen and they have their own plan in the works to gain more power.
What makes The Wolf work for me is not the focus on the military battles so much as the quiet moments leading up to it. The planning that takes place and the strategy the armies have to make as we get to experience this from both sides of the conflict. There is also softer moments where Roper is back in his home city during the winter and the political and economical tolls he has to face while being leader. All the while, it is not really the Black Lord who truly holds power in the North. There is an “secret” but well known group of members who hold tremendous influence and have all but told Roper if he doesn’t perform his duties to their liking, he will be terminated. Talk about being thrown right into the fire! But the icing on the cake is at one point a plague breaks out in the north and the city is at its last legs in the recovery to come and to muster the tropes for the spring campaign.
There are several really heartwarming character moments we get to experience such as Roper’s interactions with his newly wed wife and I will keep her a secret as she has her own plot in the story I enjoyed. Also the interactions with his men in the fields telling stories and how the world came to be. With all this praise, I must mention that this debut novel is not perfect. There are large chunks of this book where very little happens in terms of battles and plot progression, but it does build the suspense for the big moments. Some readers may say that The Wolf is a derivative of A Game of Thrones and it doesn’t offer anything additional. I feel like Leo Carew takes certain qualities from other novels and tries to put his own spin to it. Carew doesn’t always pull it off perfectly, but that is the fun of discovery. Slow-burn with plenty more left to be told in book 2, The Spider.
This was a solid debut novel for Leo Carew and a story I rarely see anyone talk about in the SFF community. It won’t be for everyone and it will require a bit of patience for the reader whom wants lots of action. I hope you will give this a go and see what truly makes the North so brutal.