Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a young adult tale of survival, set on a frozen planet called Tundar with a yearly sled race, clearly patterned after the Iditarod, to the "exocarbon" mines. Exocarbon is the MacGuffin of the story, an element that powers this universe's tech and just about everything else. We're never told how exocarbon works, which brings me to my major complaint about this book: the thinness of the worldbuilding.
Granted, I can cut the author a lot of slack, since it's her debut novel. The characters make up for this lack somewhat, especially with the book's core relationship: the protagonist Sena and the two-hundred-pound genetically engineered fighting wolf Iska, named after Sena's deceased mother. Sena's mothers died five years previously during the same race, and Sena has been on her own ever since, picking pockets and doing odd jobs to survive. She was traumatized by her mothers' deaths and steadfastly refuses to take any work related to the race, even though she was raised to care for the genetically engineered vonenwolves that pull the sleds. But in this story she gets tangled up with Boss Kalba, the villain (and a thoroughly one-dimensional one at that) who wants her to bring his wolf Iska back to peak fighting condition. Sena is forced to take the job and ends up being drawn into the race anyway, courtesy of her attempts to keep Iska out of Kalba's hands. Most of the book is the tale of the race and Sena's fight to bring herself, Iska, and the party of scientists she falls in with to the end of the race, alive and well.
This book would have been much better if more thought had been given to the world and its ecology, rather than slapping meaningless labels like "oska bears," "vonenwolves" and "ice goblins" on the native fauna. True, this story is about the challenge of the race instead of a travelogue and/or creature survey, but even so, a bit more detail would have really given the reader the sense of this frozen alien iceball of a planet. Sena's character arc is well drawn and plausible, as the people she falls in with, along with Iska, work to bring her out of the bitter, brittle shell she has surrounded herself with since her mothers' deaths.
I liked the fact that there's no romance in this book: Sena's relationship with Iska and her new found family are the core of the story. The book is also generally well paced. This new author has a lot of potential, and I hope next time around she gives more attention to her worldbuilding to live up to it.
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