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"People of the Wolf" is the first in a series by the husband and wife team, W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear. This inventive and evocative tale is set in prehistoric North America, although the introduction begins the reader off in the modern era. The prologue gives us an insight into a singular event that precedes the birth of two of the main characters, Runs In Light and his twin, Raven Hunter. However, this riveting tale of love, honor, leadership and danger begins, as is so often the case, with people in crisis...
The world is changing and the People suffer. Squeezed between a more powerful aggressive people and the starvation brought on by the changes in their world, the once peaceful People are in complete turmoil. Young Runs In Light follows after a starving wolf in hopes of bringing some food, however unappetizing, to his desperate family and friends. He had no way of knowing that Wolf would be leading him for the rest of his life down paths that he had never imagined. This simple hunt for food becomes a holy Dream Hunt in which Wolf's vision for Light's people is revealed and he must find a way to lead as many as he can through the Big Ice to a land blessedly warm and rich with game.
The Wolf Dream is no easy burden to bear. Light faces many challenges, his own human nature not the least of his obstacles. Doubt already eats away at his acceptance of the Dream's validity as he leads his small band south. Crow Caller, the last shaman of his clan, and Light's dark twin, Raven Hunter pull the rest of the People North, in the direction they originally came from, in a vain attempt to save both the people and their power over them. South, Runs In Light and his group fight the increasingly frigid terrain, finding little but growing doubt and squabbling to fuel them on their way. North, Crow Caller's group find a place with other bands of their People, but they are no better off.
Crow Caller beats his young wife, Dancing Fox, and heaps dire threats and humiliations upon anyone who dares stand against him. Dancing Fox is still in love with her youthful paramour, Runs In Light, and quickly learns that the jealous and seemingly disturbed Raven Hunter will stop at nothing to see his own self-centered 'visions' become reality. He calmly informs her of his great love for her, their great entwined Destiny that will lead the People to greatness, as he takes actions designed to make her an Outcast in their society and dependant upon his kindness for the very food that keeps her alive. Raven Hunter is a cunning man though and he uses every advantage to sway his troubled and beleaguered People into a war with the Mammoth People.
Meanwhile, the powerful Dreamer and Most Respected Elder of the Mammoth People, Ice Fire, is troubled by his own visions of his mysterious twin sons and the Spirit world. Who is the old woman who watches? Why is the Spirit World making strange bargains with him over the lives of sons he barely believes exist? What is the terrible threat that Ice Fire senses hanging over his own People? The Mammoth People and these soft Others who have only ever retreated before them seem destined to destroy each other unless Ice Fire can find a better way for them both.
Runs In Light struggles through much of this book to recapture the Wolf Dream and accept his role as Dreamer for his people. It is no easy thing to learn the paths a Dreamer must walk, nor to stay upon that narrow and treacherous spiritual trail despite self-doubt, human failings, and being ridiculed or doubted by the very people he wants so desperately to save though. The infamous 'witch', Heron, takes him under her wing and turns every moment with her reluctant pupil into a lesson. It is most often through Heron that the reader learns along with our hero some eternal Truths. "Nobody ever feels like they fit in. It's part of the curse of being human.", Heron tells him.
"Magic? The world's full of it. But it's not the kind you think. I can't make that rock move. I can't breathe life into the dead. There's rules that keep everything together. A Dreamer has to sink into the world- let it swallow him until he doesn't exist anymore." is her explanation." ...I mean the basic rule of all magic, or all Dreaming, is that there's only One Life." And when our troubled Dreamer asks why, if there is only One Life, everyone doesn't feel it?
Wise old Heron replies, "Thoughts get in the way. People block their minds to the Dream, disbelieve, shut themselves off from the voice of the One. If they listen to themselves, they can hear it, but a person has to tear down the walls he's built in his mind before he's free to listen. Most people won't. It's too hard. Instead, they fill their minds with petty nonsense, gossip, thoughts of revenge." Wise words!
Despite Heron's teachings, Runs In Light finds it easier to accept his new name of Wolf Dreamer than to actually achieve and stay in a state where he is receptive to Wolf's voice, or even simply understanding why the Great Mystery has chosen to set these choices before him in the first place. Perhaps the most difficult lesson we learn through young Wolf Dreamer is that Love can be our greatest enemy in reaching and maintaining a good spiritual standing.
Love can easily draw us off of a higher path although we often only think of its positive aspects. What would we sacrifice for the love of our children, our parents, or our spouse? What would we do to gain the one we love? Which Love takes precedence; Love of one or Love for All? The senseless death of a loved one might goad us into rash actions that we would not normally support, let alone enact. "You're the only thing between me and the Dream." Wolf Dreamer forces himself to admit to the woman he has loved his whole life, nor is it ever an easy choice for our hero to choose the needs of the many over his own desires.
Like Wolf Dreamer, the reader is caught before we really understand what is going on. Will these two people destroy each other? Will Raven Hunter succeed in his mad plans for power and greatness? Will these diametrically opposed brothers find a resolution or tear each other apart? Ice Fire seems to sum it up early in the story with this line, The Great Mystery's path is opening before us. Good or bad, who knows? What matters is that things will be different, and we'll be changed forever."
This husband and wife duo are also archaeologists and their love of their work definitely shines through in each of their unique novels. Very similar to the works of Jean M. Auel, these works may or may not appeal to readers though. While they avoid a lot of the tedious descriptions of flora and fauna that Auel often displays, they do fall into a similar of a pit with their chosen subject matter, the varied cultures of the Native American people. A certain familiarity with Native beliefs certainly helps though. Although certain aspects of culture that can be found in these authors works, such as having no knowledge of the Hero Twins or Monster Children and their eternal struggle, won't really hamper a new reader. Other aspects may slow you down though.
For example, anything of Power which would deserve our respect is named in capitals, like a person's name. The Great Mystery is just one name for what most people would term, God, and so must be capitalized. When a simple animal is being discussed it will appear thus, "a wolf gnawed at the carcass.", but when that animal appears as a Teacher or Totem it becomes capitalized, as in.. "Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine." Also, Elders are always respected in this culture. One would refer to or speak to an elder with terms like Grandfather or Aunt even if not directly related or even if referring to things in the world around us, as in Father Sun or Grandfather White Bear.
I noticed during this book that these aspects could get rather confusing if you aren't paying attention, and it sometimes felt as if every other word on a page was capitalized. This was no less tedious than Auel's repetitive penchant for describing the scenery in her fine works though, and probably wouldn't slow you down much if you are prepared ahead of time for this small quirk.
I was enthralled by the growth that many of the characters achieve, as well as how many of their personal troubles simply mirror those that we still struggle with today. Intolerance, fear, hunger, doubt, love, hate, anger, family and our duties to our Creator are issues that we all deal with to some extent and with varying degrees of success. Dancing Fox was an amazingly strong woman who constantly vies with her own desires, the needs of her people, and following her heart over what she has been told to follow by the beliefs of her culture.
The character Singing Wolf went through some intriguing changes as well. At one point, you just want to reach through the pages and knock his head against something hard because he is so caught up in his own worries and doubts that he can do nothing but complain. We, the readers, can see him spiraling downward into some very petty behavior, but he ends up becoming one of the strongest characters in the book and in fact learns how to truly be a leader. Watching Singing Wolf learn to use his natural gift of doubting for the betterment of his People and how to put aside his emotions to concentrate on what is truly important was very inspiring. "People of the Wolf" is an engaging work that reminds us that Life, while seldom what we expect, is truly what we make of it. It also gently reminds us that this Torch is always passing to the next soul who considers themselves too small or not strong enough to be chosen.
All in all, I found this work to be a truly fascinating read that conjectures how people were affected by the changes of the time, and glacial drift in general. I can't say that I've read many books that deal with the much debated crossing into North America, nor can I imagine such a tale told with more ingenuity or believable imagination than this one. I had been introduced to these authors by a friend who loaned me a book much further down the line of this series, and I decided to check out more through my local library by beginning with the first of the series. I have to say that the work appears seamless and I often found myself wondering which bits belonged to which half of this writing duo. Then again, I believe that men and women see everything So differently, that I am often amazed that we can successfully share the same planet, let alone a single home.
While each book seems to be a stand alone story, similar threads are woven through each book. The struggle of Dreamers to accept their place and duty to their people, and the theory that we are all already One are two prime examples of themes I've seen repeated in the Gears' books. Each tale that I have read has been unique though and had it's own inspirations, wisdoms, joys and sorrows to share with a willing reader. Each tale I've read thus far has been a vivid and creative look at both the cultures and the enduring beliefs of the Native American peoples. "Mitake Oyasin"- All My Relations