Book Review: Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

16 Mar


Disclosure: Alex Wells is a pseudonym of Alex Acks, co-host here at Skiffy and Fanty. I consider them a friend.

Hob Ravani is a member of a biker outfit on Tanegawa’s World. Tanegawa’s World is a hardscrabble place, a dry and desolate world that wouldn’t draw any interest, even from the Transrift corporation, save for its considerable mineral resources. Those resources, and those resources alone, make the desert planet valuable. It’s not Arrakis, but Tanegawa’s World is still a prize to the only corporation with the capacity to travel to the stars. Not even the Federal Union that ostensibly is the government of humanity and all of its worlds has the secret to their Rift drive.

And then there is the fact that some people who live on Tanegawa’s World are affected by the strange contaminants on the planet. It IS an alien world, after all, and humans and their works and creations are intruders upon it. Humans who live away from the filtered, protected city of Newcastle are exposed to the world. They can develop unusual, exotic powers, powers that are feared by the corporation, and everyone else on the planet for that matter.  People with this contamination gone feral, called witchiness by the locals, are a breed apart. People like Hob.

Hunger Makes the Wolf, the debut novel from Alex Wells, tells Hob’s story.

Hob’s story is a classic one of rising to power and authority, and moving to do what is right. As we meet Hob, she is just an enforcer in The Ghost Wolves, a for-hire outfit that really is not much more than a gang. They ride bikes, they hire themselves out for pay (rather than being raiders and reavers) and they exist in the liminal space of the desert. Hob does not have much authority within The Ghost Wolves, even given her affinity and relationship with Old Nick, their leader. However, one inciting incident, one small pebble, is poised to launch both Hob and the Ghost Wolves down a scree slope to destinations neither Hob nor the rest of the Wolves expect. It’s interesting and intriguing character development and growth for Hob and her “family”.

The worldbuilding of the novel, no surprise, drew me in. In real life, the author is a geologist, and so brings the reader into the desert landscape in a real and immersive way. Readers who think that a desert is just endless sand dunes will be disabused of the notion, as Wells’ characters inhabit and make use of the variety of desert experience. I could feel my footsteps on the hardpan of the desert on Tanegawa’s World, the sands of the dunes, and life and a sense of place on a dry, alien world. There are hints of the bigger universe, how the Weathermen pilot ships for faster than light travel, that there are many worlds beyond Earth and Tanegawa’s World out there in this ’verse. Overall, Wells’ writing puts the reader into the universe, onto the planet, and onto the bikes and trains (oh the trains!) that cross the dusty landscape. The only other thing I could hope for, and they are sadly rather out of fashion these days, is a Clement/Anderson style description of the Tanegawa solar system.

Beyond the sense of place, and in addition to Hob, the novel’s minor thread and key focuses on Meg. In a braiding loop of past and present points of view with Hob’s until they meet, we get to see Meg’s point of view of the mess that draws Hob into her story, and ultimately propels Hob’s story forward. Once they are in the same time frame, Meg’s story continues in a minor key from that point, with the novel far more interested in Hob than Meg. If Hob’s story is one of rising to authority and responsibility and taking a stand, Meg, some steps further back on the path, is of an awakening to who and what she is. I am torn that the whip-fast and lean plotting and pacing of the novel makes it impossible for Meg to get more of her story out, especially as a foil and a reflection to Hob herself.

Finally, I want to mention the action beats in the novel. With a gang on a desert planet going up against a corporation and other comers, you’d expect, in addition to worldbuilding and character development, you are going to get some high-octane action. The novel delivers in spades, from up close and brutal fights, to racing alongside a train, to things I don’t want to spoil. There are quiet beats of character development and movement along those lines, and then the clean clear lines of Hob and the Wolves’ nature comes into sharp focus. The action beats are sharp and there aren’t any “50 page combats”. In addition, they are clean, clear and crisp.

And if the cover, with Hob in full witchiness mode, with a bike, and a spaceship in the desert world background,  doesn’t make you at least curious about the book, there is no hope for you in my eyes.

Sharp, honed, and brilliant, this debut novel makes me want more set on Tanegawa’s World, more with Hob and Mag, and just more in this universe. It’s clear there are plenty of other worlds in this universe that Wells could visit, and introduce us to the characters who inhabit them. How about it, Alex?


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