Book Review: Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

I read quite a few debut novels and had a cool half dozen on my reading list for the first three months of 2017, but Alex Wells’ Hunger Makes the Wolf was the one I was most looking forward to in the first quarter of this year. I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint. While it may lack some of the great depth and the high level of craft of some of the other debuts I’ve read so far this year, Hunger Makes the Wolf more than makes up for it in other areas. It’s a well-conceived, smartly plotted, enthusiastically fast-paced sci-fi adventure with some cool ideas and a couple of excellent lead characters who’ve got plenty growing still to do in future books.

Sometimes you just want to read something fun that reminds you of other things you like, without having to think too hard to understand it, and Hunger Makes the Wolf contains shades of all kinds of things that are relevant to my reading interests. There are shades of Firefly, Dune, Mad Max: Fury Road, and even Star Wars here, and it’s by far the most fun thing I’ve read since I read the first two books of K.B. Wagers’ Indranan War trilogy at the end of last year. Like Wagers, Alex Wells manages to draw elements from many inspirations and still create a story with plenty of originality and individual flair. The overall effect is enjoyably familiar without ever feeling like a clone of someone else’s work, and if you like any or all of the above-mentioned stories, this one will be right up your alley.

I know I’ve said that this isn’t a particularly deep novel, but I don’t know if I can reiterate enough how much that’s not a criticism. The plot is straightforward, with an easy-to-understand conflict and clearly defined villains and heroes. At the same time, the villains are never caricatures of evil, and the heroes have enough internal conflict and nuance to be compelling. Hunger is, at heart, about two things—personal political awakenings and grassroots resistance against tyranny—and Wells comes at these themes with a cleverly simple approach that makes his points easy to understand while still recognizing the complexity of characters and situations. This is all well-supported by a setting that, while obviously derivative of several other popular works, is described in plenty of vivid detail and has several unique quirks—namely an interesting (if somewhat mysterious) magic system—to set it apart from the pack.

Hob Ravani is a great protagonist of the tough-as-nails ass-kicking kind, and her journey of self-discovery is neatly described throughout the novel. The story of a young person stepping into a leadership role they aren’t entirely prepared for might be a little formulaic, but it’s executed here with loving gusto and a great deal of charm. Though Hob’s friend Mag starts off as something of a damsel in distress, she quickly comes into her own as a resistance leader in her own right. Mag’s fledgling romance with another persecuted woman deserved a little more page time, but I’d say that Mag, in general, deserves more page time. I love the way Hob and Mag complement and balance each other in the story, and Wells does a nice job of showing the ways in which people can work together from different directions and points of view to accomplish goals that are bigger than themselves.

If there’s any major criticism I have of Hunger Makes the Wolf it’s that there isn’t enough of it. It stands alone well enough, but it feels very obviously like the first book of a series. Everything about it feels like an introduction, just the first act in a much longer story arc, and there are quite a few things left unresolved at the end of the novel. The good news is that it is the first book in a series. The bad news is that now I have to wait for it, and I’m terribly impatient. It turns out that stories about anti-capitalist space biker witches are kind of my jam.

This review is based on a copy of the book received from the publisher through NetGalley.

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