Blood Binds the Pack by Alex Wells

Blood Binds the PackBlood Binds the Pack

by Alex Wells
Series: Hob Ravani, #2

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Angry Robot, 2018

Read: February 20 – 23, 2018


How do you follow-up a book like Hunger Makes the Wolf? Which took the elements of a biker-gang, oppressed miners (and other blue-collar types), magic, space travel, and corporate greed to create an action-packed, fun, suspenseful and surprising read. Well, you take that foundation, and build on it to create a book that takes those elements and does a better job with them.

The pressure on TransRift Corporation is mounting (even when they don’t realize it), especially on their operations base on Tanegawa’s World. There’s a growing level of unrest with the miners — which they respond to in a way that hasn’t worked for anyone since the opening of Exodus. There’s the constant need for more resources, if possible, resulting in stronger and more efficient product. The government is sniffing around, wondering about what they’re up to and how they’re treating people. Meanwhile, the loose organization of miners in each city is getting stronger as are the ties between them. All in all — it’s a powder keg ready to blow.

Not having to create a world, Wells is able to spend more time on characters this time (at least that’s my impression — it’s not like I was dissatisfied with the characters in Hunger). We see depths and shadings of character in people I wasn’t sure where capable of depths and shadings — and if we get that from beings like that, imagine what we get from the more fully-formed people.

When writing about the last book, I said that I wanted more with the Ghost Wolves as a whole, to get a better feel for them. I got that this time — but not quite enough. I’m not sure what it would’ve taken, however. They seem more cohesive as a unit — Hob taking to leadership, and the Wolves taking to Hob. It’s a fascinating group — and one I clearly can’t get enough of.

There were plenty of mysteries, questions, enigmas wrapped in each other about the nature of the Weathermen, the Bone Collector, Hob’s abilities (and those of others, too) and what TransRift Corporation has found in the mines left over from Hunger — and Wells doesn’t answer them all. Are some things clarified? Are some things better understood? Yup. Does everything get spelled out for the reader? Nope. I love the fact that there’s a whole lot that we don’t get to wrap our brains around, but that we just have to accept — just like the characters. But it’s done not in a way that you feel unsatisfied with what you’re given.

There’s even a little bit of sweetness to be found in friendship, family, and romance. Not so much that it becomes a “kissing book” or anything, it’s just an added touch.

I find the politics a little hard to swallow and simplistic — but I can’t think of the politics of any SF book/world that don’t strike me this way, honestly. At least not once they get beyond the most vague notions. I’m only mentioning it because it seems that important to the novel. Which is not to say that it detracts from things too much — if I can suspend disbelief enough to buy the capabilities of the Weathermen, or a fire-throwing, one-eyed, space-biker; I can buy whatever the workers on Tanegawa’s World try to replace the corruption they’ve suffered under.

I get the feeling that this is going to be a duology — there might be more stories to tell with the Ravani, or Tanegawa’s World, but they probably won’t be as closely tied to these two. I’m satisfied with a duology — we got a complete story and a very satisfying one. Wells started strong and ended stronger — can’t ask for more than that.

I’m excited to talk about this book and I want to say a whole lot more — and feel like I should. But I’m not sure what else to say without giving anything away. Hunger Makes the Wolf was one of my favorites last year, and this is better. Ultimately, there’s not much more to say than that.

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4 1/2 Stars

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Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the WolfHunger Makes the Wolf

by Alex Wells
Series: Hob Ravani, #2

eARC, 326 pg.
Angry Robot, 2017

Read: January 6 – 10, 2016


Let’s just get this out there — this is a very cool novel. If you dig SF that’s not beholden to space ships and lots of future tech — and can even handle a little bit of magic, you’ll want to read this one.

Tanegawa’s World is a little forgotten backwater of a planet — think Tatooine — so forgotten that none of the colonists there really have a clue that there’s an interplanetary government, or what’s going on with any other planet. The company that runs the mines (and by extension, the farming communities that support the mines) runs the whole show. There are organizations of workers in individual towns, and there’s a loose network connecting them, for mutual assistance and support. And then there are the Ghost Wolves — a band of mercenary bikers. They are a law unto themselves, but have strong ties to the miner groups. They may be supported by/sympathized with by most people in the towns, but officially they’re outlaws.

Hob Ravani is the lowest ranked member of the Wolves — she’s made some serious blunders that required her to go through the training/probationary process twice. But she’s a full-fledged member now, and the leader, Nick Ravani (no blood tie, but he gave her his name), seems to trust her, even as he’s still testing her commitment following these blunders. Making a routine run with a couple of other Wolves, Hob finds the body of Nick’s brother lying dead in the sand, shot in the back several times. This discovery — and the ensuing investigation, retaliation, and the side-effects of both — will end up changing Tanegawa’s World and the lives of many of its people in ways that no one can expect.

Which is not to say that this is a big, global story. It’s not. This is about Hob and her immediate circle. They just find themselves (and, eventually, put themselves) in some critical areas — and also don’t realize just what they’re getting themselves into. Mag, the dead man’s daughter, is Hob’s estranged best friend, and will be the favorite character of many readers. There are Geri and Freki — twins who are only slightly senior to Hob when we meet them, they’re not really friends of hers, but they are allies she can count on when she needs to — and on this world, that might be more important. There’s Coyote, who I enjoyed immensely, and a couple of other Wolves that we spend time with, but most aren’t factors in the story. There’s one more person in her circle, the Bone Collector — I’m not even going to try to sum him up in a sentence, but he’s worth getting to know.

On the flip side we have Mr. Green, who is just creepifyin’ (as Mal Reynolds would say), a Weatherman (not like Al Roker) and a couple of cut-throat corporate types who just this side of wearing black hats and twirling their mustaches They are absolutely believable and not cartoon-y, but reek of “bad guy.”

There is something that could be magic going on here — it’s definitely seen as magic by some. It might be radiation-induced mutation. It could be some sort of world-spirit/alien entity doing something to people. It’s tough to say, and it really doesn’t matter — some individuals on Tanegawa’s World possess abilities that others don’t. The ultimate cause of those abilities makes no difference to the story, it’s interesting to speculate about (and to see why various groups adopt their interpretation and how they use it) — but at the end of the day, it just means that there are a few characters walking around with extra abilities which don’t define them, but are definitely helpful.

The plotting is good, the pacing is strong, and there’s a strong voice throughout the work. This is just an impression — I can’t quote anything to verify it (were I a professional, I’d make the effort), but while the voice is consistent and strong throughout, I think Wells is a bit more aggressive about it in the opening chapters. In sort of a “come on strong and get you into the world” then dial back to “now here’s the story.” Or maybe it’s “throw you into the deep end” and then let you swim undisturbed. Or maybe I acclimatized Or maybe I should stop trying to make this point and move on. My overall point on voice — both the narrative voice, and the individual characters — it that it was strong, clear and engaging — the kind that you want to spend 300 pages with. Wells demonstrates the chops to keep and build an audience, if they’ll just give the book a shot.

I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Dune and this world — I’ve never been able to get through much of the first book, and nor the adaptations — so I can’t comment. There’s a lot of sand, so, I guess maybe. Tanegawa’s World feels like something out of O’Keefe’s Scorched Continent or Firefly — a mining/agricultural society in what might as well be the Old West with (some) better technology than we have. Arguably, this planet is a little less hospitable to humans and The Powers That Be are a shade more corrupt.

I’ve also seen a lot of talk about the biker gang aspect of the book. It didn’t feel as prominent as I’d have liked — it was there, but it didn’t seem that vital to the nature of the mercenary crew the Ravani leads. If I had to compare it to anything, the Ghost Wolves felt more like a UF werewolf pack than anything else. That may say more about what I’ve been reading than anything that Wells wrote, still I got more of a Briggs/Vaughn/etc. vibe to the group than a Kurt Sutter-vibe. Outside of a handful of individual members, I didn’t get a clear feel for the Wolves. It’s understandable, Wells had a lot balls in the air and was doing just a good job juggling them that I didn’t notice. In retrospect, however, I’d have appreciated a little more time with this aspect.

I feel like I’ve gone on too long here, but I haven’t touched all the things I want to say. There’s just so much going on in these few hundred pages! Despite all that, you don’t get bogged down in the worldbuilding, the details, the backstories, or anything — Hunger Makes the Wolf is a fun, fast, gripping read. I trust there’s a sequel on the way. There just has to be. Not that this isn’t a complete story — there’s just a lot of threads that beg to be picked up. Either way, you’ll want to read this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.

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4 Stars