Recommended: The Wolf of Winter (Paula Volsky)
Prince Varis is the timid, bookish third son of the ruling House of Haudrensq. His brothers alternately despise him and pity him, and he has little hope of ever amounting to anything more than a petty noble, looked down upon universally for his lack of social graces. That is, until he discovers the secrets of Necromancy, the art of summoning and commanding ghosts.
His family rules over the land of Rhazaulle, a land that can be described best by the prologue of this peculiar story:
In the northern land of Rhazaulle, society is shaped by two great influences; the severity of the climate, and the sometimes disruptive activity of the necromancers. The hunger of winter personifies itself in the legend of the fabulous Ulor. Heraldic beast and national symbol of Rhazaulle, the Ulor is a gigantic, white, winged wolf, whose yearly flight from mountain lair, across the realm and back again, marks winter's onset. Flight concluding, the Ulor returns to its nest, there to slice its own throat open upon a shard of ice. White blood spurts from the wound. Each gout striking the snow swells, sculpting itself into the form of a winged wolf cub. The parent expires. Throughout the long winter, the cubs thrive and grow upon a diet of ice. When they are old enough to long for stronger meat, they turn upon one another, killing and devouring until at last the strongest alone remains alive to become the new Ulor, an assumption of power traditionally bringing winter to an end. So firm a grip has this legend taken upon the national imagination that Rhazaulle's ruler is officially known as the "Ulor."
This is a twisted, dark tale, as foreshadowed by this haunting prologue. The imagery is likewise rich and foreboding throughout.
It's a story about Varis's transformation, revenge, and lust for power. He is the central character of this tale, even though the book jacket mentions two other major characters, Varis's niece and nephew, Shalindra and Cerrov. Don't get me wrong - their roles are critical, and Shalindra provides a perfect lens through which to further view Varis, but Varis is the star.
Speaking of characters, I found the cast of insane necromancers to be especially fun to read. Colorfully named "spifflicates" (from the word "spifflication," an old word that means "intoxicated") they have been driven mad by overdosing on the consciousness-enhancing drugs required to practice Necromancy. Watch for Clotl and his gang of freaks.
It has ghosts, magic-enhancing drugs, murder, and madness. What more could you want in a story?
If you like this book, you will probably also like Volsky's Illusion. It seems people other than me like Illusion better, and it definitely has its charms. It's pretty obviously (to me) inspired by the French Revolution, which was interesting. I've heard that The Wolf of Winter also has a historical influence, namely the Russian Tsars, but I don't know enough about Russian history to verify that. The names and snowy climate of the story have a definite Russian feel, however.
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