Long ago, and far away, an apprentice blacksmith named Joran is tormented by nightmares. He claws his way up a sand-strewn cliff battered by ocean waves, desperately trying to reach his imprisoned wife. Every night, he fails, sucked under the dark, roiling water as a baleful moon looms overhead, mocking him.
It’s just a dream, isn’t it? That’s what Joran thinks, until he discovers that the wife he sent back to her relatives in a nearby village after a heated argument never reached her destination. She’s vanished without a trace, and Joran sets off to find her. His quest will take him to the very boundaries of his world, in the company of an extraordinarily strange ally, to grapple with forces beyond his imagination. He needs all the help he can get–Joran will soon discover that the most merciless, relentless enemy of all lurks closer than he ever thought possible.
C.S. Lakin’s The Wolf of Tebron, the first volume in her Gates of Heaven series, is hard to classify. The author calls it a fairy tale, but that implies a triviality totally at odds with the depth of this story, besides the fact that nary a fairy is to be found between its covers. It does, however, contain a wealth of magic and mystery, and the hero must contend with archetypal, personified forces of nature in his quest to seek and save his lost love. It is also an allegory of redemption, in the Christian understanding of that concept, but nothing so simple as a retelling of Christ’s love and sacrifice in fancy dress. The story contains a wealth of literary allusions from sources as wide-ranging as Friedrich Nietzsche, G.K. Chesterton, Carl Jung, and The Brothers Grimm, which enhance the richness of the tale but will cause no difficulty for readers unfamiliar with those references. It’s an adventure, it’s a romance, it’s an heroic quest, it’s a meditation on the relationship between dreams and reality, and it’s a journey into the tangled garden of the human mind and heart.
Above all, it’s a fun read. Ms. Lakin is a masterful storyteller. She plunges us quickly into Joran’s adventure–we share his struggles and heartache, and we see the wonders and hazards of the lands beyond the homey environs of Tebron through his eyes, in vivid detail. Joran is above all a human hero who must overcome his own flaws and weaknesses to achieve his goal, and it is not, by any means, an easy road. He learns the dangers of self-centeredness and the power of self-sacrifice. His companion on the journey, the noble wolf Ruyah, is a character both powerful and unique. Readers familiar with Christian fantasy will recognize echoes of C.S. Lewis’ themes in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but Tebron is not Narnia, and Ruyah is not Aslan. Ms. Lakin deals more heavily in metaphor than Lewis, and trying to make tidy connections from The Wolf of Tebron to people and places in our world would be both misleading and frustrating.
My complaints are few and trivial. There are a couple of jarring lapses into contemporary language, and the philosophical/religious dialogue feels a bit muddled in places. An allusion to God’s creative activity as “the One who dreams and sustains all creation with his dreaming” hews a bit close to the description of Vishnu in Hindu mythology. There are a lot of aphorisms and other “wise sayings” peppered through the dialogue that wear a little thin after a while, and one character even grumbles about this late in the story, which gave me a chuckle.
Bottom line, I found The Wolf of Tebron a thoroughly enjoyable tale that, though not aimed at children, will appeal to readers (and listeners) of all ages. Ms. Lakin doesn’t settle for simple entertainment. This story engages and challenges its audience, providing fertile ground for thought and discussion long after the last page is turned.
>>This review is based upon an advance review copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<