The Premise: Aralorn has been called home after ten years away as a spy for the mercenary city-state of Sianim – her father, the Lion of Lambshold has died. Aralorn returns to the family she left behind and to the reasons why she left. She also discovers that her father is actually alive but kept in a death-like state through some malicious black magic spell which neither she nor Wolf can easily break. The question becomes – how can they free Aralorn’s father before his life leaves him for real, and who is responsible for his “death”, and why?
My Thoughts: This book starts off not too long after the events of the last book – just enough time for people to settle down again after what happened at the ae’Magi’s castle. The principle characters of the first book have gone back to their regular roles, and Aralorn and Wolf have gone back to the spying game. Apparently the world has accepted happened at the ae’Magi’s castle with minimal repercussions, and if there are to be significant world changing events because of it, they aren’t happening right away.
Almost no one knows or suspects that Aralorn and Wolf were ever involved with what happened, but when Aralorn’s father is targeted, the first thought to come to mind is that their fight is not over. It’s natural to wonder if such a evil villain, whose body is never found, is really still alive. When people begin to have strange dreams that feel like they are memories rather than dreams, it suggests a perpetrator with magical power, again pointing at the ae’Magi, but there are a few magic users in the vicinity of Lambshold, including Aralorn’s brother-in-law as well as her shapeshifter relatives. And then, there’s the new ae’Magi. Thus, Wolfsbane is a sort of a magical whodunit to find out who is behind the Lion of Lambshold’s “death”,with the side effect that we get to delve into Aralorn’s beginnings and explore her relationship with Wolf.
I love Patricia Briggs’ current urban fantasy series, but when I read Wolfsbane and compare it to her newer work, it lacks finesse. I can see the foundation in Wolfsbane for the writer Briggs is now. It has the ideas and a relationship between two unique characters which I love in Briggs’ recent work, but the execution here is a little clunky. Aralorn and Wolf have only two weeks to lift the spell on her father but there’s little sense of urgency or pressure from Aralorn’s family about how little time they have and how little they know. Compared with Masques, which had quite a bit of action, Wolfsbane less physical, more verbal. It mostly deals with Aralorn and Wolf asking the opinions of the nearby experts, deciding what to do next, and contemplating their relationship with each other.
In both the mystery and the relationship I found things a little too scripted. Aralorn would tell stories or make decisions that seem out of the blue, but they had a direct bearing on the story later on. Similarly she knows Wolf’s state of mind before he does, and while he’s being the self-hating hero, she’s cheerfully understanding. I enjoyed Aralorn and Wolf’s relationship in Masques, because I felt that Wolf’s prickliness was well balanced with Aralorn’s ability to see what he was really feeling. Unfortunately, in Wolfsbane, this same relationship didn’t work for me, probably because Wolf’s role as a tortured hero was revisited constantly. After a while I began to find his angst and Aralorn’s response tedious. That’s not to say that there were not one or two sweet moments between Aralorn and Wolf that I liked reading, but I felt that some of the space used to repeat what we know about their relationship could have been used to deepen the plot and flesh out the secondary characters. Instead, the relationship took precedence over the plot, and the cheerful demeanor Aralorn uses with Wolf jarred in the face of her father’s near-death state.
Overall: Many aspects of this story were fit together in a way that lacks the polish I expect of Briggs today. It feels like an early work, and one that doesn’t quite have the same charm that I found in Masques. For die-hard fans of Patricia Briggs, this is a must read, but as a fantasy novel, it’s mildly entertaining, but did not stand out. The story may work better for readers who are more interested in the wounded-man-and-his-savior relationship between the two main characters and are not as invested in the fantasy aspects.