Book 1: Hunger Makes the Wolf | Book 2: Blood Binds the Pack
Imagine an action/adventure/science-fiction/fantasy/western hybrid, with hard-scrabble planetary pioneers battling an evil corporation intent on subjugating the population and establishing galactic hegemony. No, I'm not talking about Firefly, or Total Recall, or whatever else those descriptors brought to mind. I'm talking about Hunger Makes the Wolf, the debut novel by Alex Wells, geologist by profession, as well as writer and frequent co-host of the podcast Skiffy & Fanty. It may remind you of other stories, it's nothing unique, but it makes up for it with exciting action and well-drawn characters in the midst of multiple life and death situations. A blurb from an early reader called it "Sons of Anarchy meets Dune." Hob Ravani is sort of like Jayne Cobb, except younger and female, not as good with guns but proficient with knives, definitely smarter, with a sharply defined moral code. Another way to visualize her is to think of Leia Organa played straight-up like real life Carrie Fisher, fond of fucking, and not averse to saying fuck whenever she pleases. She's also a 'witch'.
Hob (not her real name, and I don't believe we learned what that was) is an orphan who jumped off a freight ship onto Tanegawa's World ten years earlier. She was taken under the wing of Nick Ravani, leader of the mercenary biker gang Ghost Wolves. What little law enforcement the planet has is devoted to protecting the corporate interests of TransRift and their mining and farming operations. The Wolves contract out to various towns and individuals to protect them from bandits and scavengers. Ravani is not even Nick's real last name, but rather a title handed down through generations by the leaders of the Wolves. Similarities to the Old West abound, and there's even a train job or two. TransRift not only owns the whole planet and all its resources, the mining and farming industries are operated like historic company towns, everyone employed by them and subject to their rules and regulations. On top of that, TransRift has a monopoly on the manufacture and operation of interstellar ships, which can only be flown by their genetically designed (maybe artificially created) Weathermen, the only ones capable of maneuvering through the 'rifts' of space. Tanegawa's World has severe weather patterns, and a very strong magnetic field, which wreaks havoc on most electrical/electronics systems, and a Weatherman on the surface helps to minimize those problems. Many planets had been previously settled by members of generational starship crews, but TransRift then came in with their superior technology and exerted control.
I don't want to get into too many plot details, but for now I'll say I might rate this book higher if not for too many unanswered questions, most involving the more fantastical elements. From whence came the 'witchiness' of what Nick and Hob can do? Is it related in any way to the mental processes of the Weathermen? And the Bone Collector? Is he human, formerly human but altered by mysterious forces of the planet, or is he native to the planet? If the latter, are there others like him around? I'll give Mx. Wells the benefit of the doubt for now, at least until February, when their second novel, Blood Binds the Pack, is released. I'm looking forward to it, and not just to read more about Hob. Her childhood friend (and Nick's niece) Magdala 'Mag' Kushtrim, is just as strong in her own way, sure to be a big part of the second book's plot. Then there's the mysterious operative Shige Rollins, using the name James Rolland in his guise as secretary to TransRift's top executive on the planet, but he's actually an agent (double, triple?) of the Federated Union of Systems. I suspect he may have an agenda of his own, over and above what he is working on for FUS. Plenty of other colorful characters, and intense action with the Ghost Wolves' activities, as well as the mystery of the substance unique to the planet, which may or may not be the root of the 'witchiness' and the source of the Weathermen's powers. Recommended.
Blood Binds the Pack begins a few weeks, maybe as much as a few months, following the events of the first book. As I expected, Mag is featured more prominently in this book, and she's just as much the hero, but in a different way than Hob. The Bone Collector has disappeared into the desert, something he's done several times since Hob met him, and she desperately needs information from him. Shige Rollins is back on Earth, waiting for another Weatherman to be prepared to work on Tanegawa's World. Mag has been very useful in helping the miners of Ludlow organize against the repressive security forces employed by TransRift. The corporation has been mining in many new areas, in search of the main vein of the blue crystaline substance that powers their rift ships, and apparently also provides the Weathermen their unique abilities. The question remains whether it is also the source of Hob's power, which she shared with her adoptive father Nick. If so, why is that power different from what Mag can do? Are there different concentrations of the mineral that each were exposed to, resulting in different powers? We do get an answer (maybe) as to the Bone Collector's origin, but it doesn't explain how he has survived so long, nor how he can travel through the sand and rock at will, nor how he can sometimes transform himself into a stone-like appearance. One of Hob's crew, who we've learned is the long-lost brother of Shige Rollins, also starts exhibiting some 'witchy' behavior, but again it is different than that of Hob or Mag. That inconsistency of manifestation puzzles me, and still needs to be explained.
The majority of the plot revolves around the expanded TransRift mining operations and the individual mining towns' response. Conditions in the mines are not safe, TransRift doesn't care and wants to push the crews harder and harder. The miners organize for better conditions, more safety inspections, better pay, but are thwarted at every turn by the security forces and their heavy-handed commander. We follow the action on three fronts: the miners' struggles, mainly in Ludlow where Mag is; Hob's investigation of the mining efforts that have been tracked moving steadily northward; and Shige Rollins' covert activities for the Federated Union of Systems while ostensibly working for TransRift. An inspector from FUS is on the way to Tanegawa's World, and if they arrive in time Rollins' machinations may spell doom for TransRift. However, against all previous warnings, Shige gets a little too close to the new Weatherman, Mr. Yellow, and it just might be his undoing. Forces converge on the latest mining operation in several chapters of very explosive action. Not all of the heroes survive, not all of the villains perish, and the fate of a few is questionable. I know one of the characters featured in the epilogue, but not the other that he encounters at the very end. There are at least three, maybe four, possibilities. Combine vivid characters undergoing moral dilemmas, add intense dangers in well-described action sequences, and you get a very enjoyable read. There has not been an announcement of a third book, but I do expect it, and I will want to read it whenever it appears.
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