The story’s simple enough: a serving girl saves a foreign prince from certain doom, and he offers to take her back to his wonderful city to live the life of luxury. Of course, they have to traverse a wasteland to get there, which is riddled with all sorts of lovely weather and people who want to kill or take advantage of them in one way or another. All’s fair in love and war, yeah?
If the original Conan stories were told by one of his one-off female companions, you’d probably end up with something like WOLF TOWER.
The book’s greatest strength is the main character herself, as WOLF TOWER proves that more “snarky diaries of a fantasy protagonist” need to exist. Claidi is equal parts “fed up underpaid maid who takes no shit” and “naïve cinnamon roll,” so her observations about the world around her tend to be hilariously misguided in their bitterness. Her voice helps make a well-trodden narrative seem shiny and new while helping to deconstruct youthful wish-fulfillment.
The setting also feels ripped straight out of an old adventure pulp. Advanced technology and ruins of great civilizations are scattered throughout the wastes, while monsters and fantastic wildlife fill the space between. The few communities that manage to exist are dystopian nightmares, to the point where the harsh wastes almost look better in comparison. It manages to capture the awe and wonder of the places Claidi visits without falling into the typical scifi-fantasy world-building black hole.
Whether or not the reader will enjoy the romance (and subsequent love triangle) depends entirely on if they mind that it’s a tool. The book’s a coming-of-age at its core, and everything from ape-monsters to romance serve its underlying theme. The handsome prince Nemian and Claidi’s dynamic is one of dependency and idolization, and is thus instrumental to Claidi’s personal growth. Meanwhile, Claidi’s relationship with the bandit leader Argul is about... hot bad boys, I guess. Not everything needs to be deep.
Point is, the book is about emotions and growing up, not sexuality. If you’re into steamy YA books, look elsewhere.
Speaking of which, WOLF TOWER’s clearly aimed at the preteen/younger teen demographic, but it’s difficult to classify in this post-TWILIGHT world. The book’s too chaste to be considered YA by current standards, while it’s far too heavily to hand off to a Middle Grade reader without reservations. Hopefully it’ll continue to find its audience regardless, as it deserves to be remembered.