In Senla Nora’s village, the children are raised to remember one thing above all else: “Fear the Wolf.”
To fear the Wolf is to know your place. To fear the Wolf is to never presume too much. If any villager were to step out of line, the Wolf would descend upon them all.
For a simple garment weaver like Senla Nora, knowing her place should be easy. But Senla’s never been good at following orders.
Can Senla learn her place? Or will her disobedience endanger herself and everyone she loves?
Fear the Wolf is a dark fantasy thriller set in a mysterious world that was torn apart by a great cataclysm. Follow Senla on her treacherous journey as she overcomes her greatest fears and learns to accept herself in a world that’s always trying to tell her who and what she should be.
Goodreads Link: Fear the Wolf
Author: Andrew Butcher
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars
Another entry in SPFBO 5, from the LGBTQ Reading List. This one has clear LGBTQ+ content because the main character is a lesbian who is rejected from her community for her feelings.
This is a dark fantasy, and from the start, it was difficult not to compare it to the Yarnsworld novels by Benedict Patrick. A village in the forest, with villagers full of superstitions to protect their simple lives, threatened by mysterious dark creatures with supernatural powers. The villagers have lots of rules for dealing with these threats, but they don’t really understand their world or how it works. But unlike Yarnsworld, there are no elaborate folktales. This story is less about finding out the source of the Wild Forces and more about the personal struggles of Senla to find where she belongs.
The story is a classic fantasy quest: a giant monster has killed everyone in Senla’s village and she seeks revenge. She must learn how to fight and navigate a dangerous forest to find the foe. With these common elements, the story is still unique in the way it’s told and how things transpire. At times, the narrative can drag a little because Senla tends to repeat many of the same questions in her head, and she spends a lot of time wandering around until she stumbles on the next thing, but overall it was compelling.
I also found it interesting that Senla was raised vegetarian and chose to stay that way. I expected her to throw off her dietary restrictions when she rejected most of the rules of her old village, especially since other characters were encouraging her to eat meat so she could survive in the forest. But she decided to live her way and accept that others might make different choices. It wasn’t preaching vegetarianism, it was more about accepting that every person had to choose their own way of life and people with different beliefs could coexist. This tied into the overall theme of the book about personal growth and making personal moral choices instead of following strict rules without question.
In the end, it’s not just about physical strength to win the day. Senla must also understand herself and the world in order to make the right choice. I was left with some questions about what happened and there is an opening for a sequel, although there’s no indication if this is planned as a series.
Trigger warnings: violence and death, moderately explicit. There is non-explicit sex. There’s also an attempted rape scene which continues to haunt after with flashbacks.
LGBTQ content: the main character is a lesbian. The story starts with her unrequited feelings for her best friend, who is about to marry a man. It’s interesting to note that Senla’s village used to accept same-sex partners but after too many people are killed, their elders wanted to replace the population, so they’re forcing everyone into breeding pairs. Accepting herself and finding likeminded people is a driving force for the main character. Also, one character appears to be intersex but it’s described vaguely and comes out of left field (no hints before to set up the twist). I think it could have been handled better, but it’s rare to see intersex people mentioned in fiction at all.
I would recommend this book to readers of dark fantasy, including Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman, and Terri Windling. Yarnsworld readers may enjoy similar elements or may be disappointed by the less detailed world-building.
In other SPFBO news, the main character of my entry, Riwenne, was interviewed by The Protagonist Speaks. You can learn everything from her favorite childhood toy to her darkest secret.