Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Review: Cry of the Ghost Wolf by Mark Sehestedt

Cover: Cry of the Ghost Wolf

Cry of the Ghost Wolf is the third book in the Chosen of Nendawen trilogy, written by Mark Sehestedt and published by Wizards of the Coast for their Forgotten Realms series of shared world novels.  For those not in the know, Wizards of the Coast maintains a variety of shared world campaign settings that it uses as a basis for both roleplaying game adventure modules and as settings for prose and sequential art fiction.  The Forgotten Realms is Wizards’ general purpose fantasy setting, so Chosen of Nendawen fits squarely into its most successful genre-brand, D&D game-based Tolkienesque fantasy.  As is common with shared-world fiction, Forgotten Realms (FR) novels can vary wildly in quality, but speaking as a lover of Tolkienesque fantasy in general and D&D in particular, I’m happy to admit that reading FR novels is absolutely my favorite vice.  So since looking for a good FR book can be a little like searching for leprechauns in the wild, you can think of this review as something of a public service for fellow FR junkies.

The Chosen of Nendawen trilogy follows the adventures of Hweilan, a young human girl who is the scion of a noble family charged with the defense of Highwatch, a keep at the edge of the Giantspire Mountains, which are themselves on the edge of the Damaran frontier.  The series is a Hero’s Journey-type coming-of-age story, with the first book, Fall of Highwatch, following Hweilan after her home is destroyed, the second book, Hand of the Hunter, picking up with her inevitable apprenticeship to a supernatural power—in this case Nendawen, the fey Master of the Hunt—and the third book, Cry of the Ghost Wolf, watching as the now fully-empowered Hweilan at last confronts the enemy who destroyed her home.  However, while each piece of the trilogy tells a separate, largely self-contained piece of the story, Cry of the Ghost Wolf follows very closely on the heels of Hand of the Hunter, and I personally have my doubts about how much sense this third book will make to readers who’re entirely new to the story.  With that said, if you absolutely can’t bear the thought of reading the whole series, the second book by itself is probably introduction enough to enjoy the third book, and Hand of the Hunter is a terrific example FR fiction at its best.

The good thing about Cry of the Ghost Wolf, and indeed about the entire trilogy when taken as a whole, is that it sort of takes its time.  It shows Hweilan’s world in its entirety, touring its readers through all the nooks and crannies and getting into the details of the various plot points at every stage.  This isn’t to say that the book is slow—it isn’t, at all—but author Mark Sehestedt isn’t afraid to introduce wild, unforeseen complications at every turn.  These take Hweilan and her story in a variety of interesting and unexpected directions, giving her a chance to show not just her prowess as a Ranger but also her growth, both as a woman and as the scion of a noble house.  More than that, long sections of this trilogy are set in the Feywild, the FR’s answer to the Faerie Realm, which is itself an oft-discussed but little used section of the Wizards of the Coast universe.  Finally, I really liked the way that this book ended.  In reading it, I thought the book was setting up an obvious, straight-ahead ending, but the actual execution didn’t go down like I expected at all.  As with much of the rest of this trilogy, Sehestedt introduced a handful of unforeseen, last-minute complications that took the story in unexpected—but wholly interesting and fulfilling—directions.  That meant a lot to me as a reader, especially since so many FR novels, even some of the good ones, utterly fail to surprise at the end.

I liked Cry of the Ghost Wolf, and The Chosen of Nendawen in general, and recommend it to fans of the FR.  I found it to be a good story with a lot at stake that nevertheless avoided getting all cosmic and gimmicky at any point along the way.  Hweilan herself comes across as strong and sassy on every page, but she never gets bitchy, and she never makes dumb decisions for the sake of the plot.  That stuff by itself is reason enough for fantasy fans to give this book a try.  The fact that the story also manages to tour its readers through two completely separate but lovingly detailed sections of the Feywild and a wholly separate but equally detailed hobgoblin stronghold are just icing on the cake.  But delicious icing, to be sure.  The kind that make the thing worth savoring.


  1. Hmm, I just finished the Hunger Games trilogy and I think I found my next series to read. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Glad to help. Is what I'm here for.

  3. How is the world building element here? I know it's based on FR, so the author didn't have to create it, but how is it explained from a non-gamer POV?

  4. Definitely. It's kind of FR-light. Your basic fantasy stuff, with a side of recognizable D&D races and classes. It's not like Ed Greenwood's wacky personal universe or anything. Plus, the series is set post-Spellplague, so whatever WAS going on in Vassa and Damara back a few years ago, that stuff has all been completely obliterated. That let them basically re-boot the universe, which is/was by far the best reason for them to do it.