I’m a sucker for kid-and-their-dog books, and this is a high-stakes scifi version of that. It’s the perfect book for reading while snowed in and cuddling your own dog.
“No wolves. No sleds. No racing.” I say it automatically despite the lump in my throat.
“Foolish rule for life on a planet that revolves around those three things,” she quips.”
Tundar, an Edge World, that has near constant electrical storms and a frigid climate. Corpos – giant corporations – attempted to terraform the world once, but just made it worse, exacerbating the weather and making the wildlife even more deadly. Sena grew up a child of two worlds and none, the daughter of an ex-racer, who trained the genetically engineered vonenwolves for the famous Tundar race, and a scavver, who believes that the race, to mine a rare ingredient, is unethical. She grew up learning how to care for injured vonenwolves and the scavver ways of living with the planet. But after her mothers die in the race, Sena refuses to have anything to do with the race anymore. On a world that revolves around the race, that means she’s left with pickpocketing and not much else, and before long she’s in trouble with one of the crime bosses.
“They think they can just take a piece of Tundar without giving anything back. But that’s not how it works here. Nothing taken, nothing given.”
Sena is honestly half-feral herself. Traumatized and determined to be independent, even as a young teen, Sena’s cut herself off from anyone and anything that could get between her and somehow earning enough money to leave the planet. She’s impetuous, frequently acting or speaking before she thinks, which lands her into trouble about as often as you’d expect. Sena’s constantly leaping from one bad situation to another, and that’s what drives most of the book’s plot. And while she’s not afraid to fight for what she wants, she’s also got firm lines she won’t cross. Her scavver äma taught her to respect life, even that of vonenwolves, whom everyone else seems to view as expendable components. It’s that connection with the wolves that leads her to get involved with Iska, an injured fighting wolf that belongs to one of the crime bosses. Sena’s a loner, and the last thing she wants is a connection to anyone, including a wolf, but her continued survival on Tundar depends on joining a racing team, and Iska seems to have her own ideas.
“Sometimes you don’t get to pick your family. Sometimes, they show up and pick you and you have to embrace it. And that wolf picked you.”
The slow build of the relationship between Sena and Iska was one of my favorite parts of the book. Watching Sena slowly accept her trauma – and understand that accepting help from others isn’t a weakness – was the heart of the book. The world building was surprisingly interesting for something that’s, well, just a scifi version of Alaska. I mean, Tundar is, after all, just “tundra” with one letter switched, and a lot of the fauna Sena encounters have Earth analogs, like reindeer and polar bears. Vonenwolves, in fact, are hybrids of the native vonen mixed with Earth wolf and dog DNA. They’re genetically engineered to pull sleds and not much else. The secondary characters were also fun. Remy – and her sense of humor – and Pena were my favorites. Where the book faltered was in the pacing. Sena is constantly faced with the consequences of her impetuousness, hopping from one disaster to another, so it’s not like nothing is happening, but some of those threads and characters never felt fully developed. It takes about half of the book before we even get to the race, but wow, once that happens, the book really picks up. The author’s prose is evocative of the snowy wastelands Sena and her team have to cross, and it made me very happy to be huddled up under a blanket with a warm drink.
“We race the cold and night, my wolf and I.”
Overall, while it takes a while to get going, this book was full of action and heart, and I particularly loved the ending. I would happily read a sequel! This is a very promising debut and I’m excited to see what this author comes up with next.
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.