What this book is not: This book is not a male/male romance. This is not a bad thing. On the contrary, I think I was more relieved by the fact that it was not a romance than anything else that happened in the plot-line of the book.
What this book is: This book is a well-written fantasy novel that seemed to just get better as I read, instead of falling apart from an interesting premise as is so often the case. And, yes, there was some homosexual activity within the main story, but the variety of emotional love between men represented in this novel was refreshing. Rather than the book being all about the grand, sweeping romantic love that almost every book in the world features as the main driving force of every character to some degree, this book concentrates instead of a kind of bond between humans — in this case men — that is just as deep, just as important, and just as vital, even if the romantic aspect is either not present at all or buried under a lot more intense connections that supersede romantic love. There was the bond between the men and the wolves, the bond between the wolves themselves, the bond between human members of the ‘pack’, the deep abiding love of men who have given up everything in their prior lives to be in the situation they’ve chosen, and to fight alongside each other in a war.
I almost hate to focus on the sex because while I found it titillating (hooray!) in the end it seemed to be one of the least important things about the novel (though admittedly one of the things that got me into the novel in the first place, because I’m always happy to see intriguing, unconventional sexual situations in books!), but given how the sex is represented in some of the comments at Goodreads and elsewhere, I want to address it.
I think any reader of BDSM novels will recognize some common themes within the story. Man is considered of equal rank and importance to his wolf but in the matter or situations driven by pack instinct, such as mating, then the man must not fight the choices of the wolf. “It’s her [the wolf’s] choice,” was mentioned more than once with regards to mating, and it reminded me of BDSM scenes in which the sub allows the dom to choose a partner (or partners) for him/her to have sex with, and in which the sub allows the dom to choose what happens to him/her during a scene of any type.
It’s pretty clear in BDSM research I’ve done, while less clear in romanticised BDSM novels, that there are times the sub does not sweepingly love the choices of the dom, or even entirely enjoy them. And yet that is part of what they do enjoy or get out of the entire experience of being a submissive for a dominant. I suppose it was with that background education and mindset that I went into reading the mating scenes in the book, and I did not find them troubling or difficult to swallow. However, if that kind of reading (or in my case research for writing) isn’t part of your world, then the lack of swelling romantic feeling during the sex scenes might be off-putting. This might be complicated for a reader by not going into the book understanding point one above: this is not a romance novel.
Being who I am, of course, I did start to develop an attachment to various other men that I wished Isolfr would fall for, but in the end I was happy that was not the way the book went.
This book reminded me of a more enjoyable, more interesting, fantasy version of The Sagas of the Icelanders by Jane Smiley. Only better. Because that novel nearly made me cry tears of boredom. (Sorry, Jane Smiley!) This book was not written for the purpose of anything more than telling a sweeping tale of an unlikely, almost unwilling hero, and his wolfsister and pack-brothers. I was encouraged and relieved to find such a book existed in the world. Not every book featuring m/m relationships, or m/m sex, needs to be romance.
In other words, I loved this book for all that it actually was and didn’t hold it against it for all that it wasn’t. In fact, I rejoice in what it wasn’t. I wish that there were more books that understood that people enjoy epic books that also feature graphic sex, not just books that focus on sex (erotica) or books that focus on romance and sex (romance or romantica). I would love to see more publishing options for that kind of premise, especially for LGBT titles.