The Plot: Daine and Numair leave the capital city of Corus behind and travel to the small hamlet of Dunlath, where a pack of wolves have called Daine to investigate the strange behavior of their “humans.” The duo uncover more than they bargain for when they discover that the Lord and Lady of Fief Dunlath are plotting to overthrow King Jonathan –with more than a little encouragement from the mysterious ruler of Carthak, the empire across the sea.
The Good: This is the first time the reader gets to know Kitten (or Skysong), the infant dragon Daine adopts at the end of Wild Magic. Kitten is rather like a medium sized dog with the intelligence of an extremely curious human teenager. She can’t fly, since she’s only a baby, but she can get into all sorts of trouble and she’s basically the most adorable thing with wings.
The wolves are also intriguing. The pack moved from Galla (where Daine was born and where they first met her) south to Tortall in search of food and shelter. The dynamics of the social hierarchy and how Daine fits in as a human (or two-legger) with wild magic is fascinating. The wolves welcome Daine as a member of the pack, but she can’t quite let go of her human sensibilities.
Daine furthers her lessons in magical healing, and she learns something new and valuable: how to place her mind “inside” an animal’s and ride along as a mental passenger. The next step in her magical education is full-blown shape shifting–a step Daine is eager to try.
The leaders of Dunlath also have a treaty (of sorts) with a tribe of Stormwings (remember them? Head and torso of a man, steel wings and talons of a giant eagle). Stormwings feed on fear and the carnage left behind on a battlefield, so they’re nearly always smeared with blood and other bodily fluids. Charming right? So why am I sticking them in the “good” category? I have two words for you: Rikash. Moonsword. Daine has a long and storied history with Stormwings–namely that she shoots first and asks questions later. Rikash, however, is the first Stormwing to be presented as… favorable. Compassionate. Dare I say even… human? Rikash and Daine reach a tenuous truce in Wolf-Speaker, and I’m happy to say he plays a part in the later books as well.
The Bad: I’m just going to say it: this is my least favorite book in the series. It’s not that it’s boring, it’s just that the final two books have so much action and swoon that I have a hard time re-reading Wolf-Speaker when I could read Emperor Mage of In the Realms of the Gods (books three and four, respectively). With the exception of Rikash, the new characters that are introduced never show up again, so it’s hard for me to get excited about cute little 10-year-old Maura of Dunlath, because she gets one more mention in Emperor Mage and then it’s essentially “Maura who now?” Even Tkaa, the super-awesome basilisk only shows up once, very briefly in book four.
The Verdict: The best part about this book is Rikash and Daine’s new magic lessons. Pierce throws in some educational stuff too–there’s one scene in particular where Daine rides along with a bat and experiences echolocation first-hand, which is pretty excellent. In this end, this book is a must-read the first time around, but unless you really, really like wolves, don’t feel guilty about passing it up in the future.