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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

The Relentless Oppression Of The Wilderness

The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney

Set in nineteenth century Canada, The Tenderness Of Wolves is the story of how an isolated community is affected by the murder and scalping of one of their number, albeit a relative outsider. Suspicions quickly settle on Frances, the adopted son of two of the community's earliest settlers, who has disappeared.
Convinced of his innocence, Francis' mother sets off into the desolate wilderness in an attempt to discover the truth. In the process she uncovers the corrupt and ruthless dealings of the powerful Hudson Bay Company whose grip on the lucrative fur trade is being challenged by a group of independent traders, of whom the murdered man was a leading light; the company's response to this challenge and to her attempt to investigate is arrogant and brutal.

The relentless oppression of the wilderness is wonderfully evoked; and the narrowness of human prejudice is outlined starkly by contrast. The characterisation is both convincing and compelling and the way that community restricts the scope of individuality is cleverly explored. However, I was not completely enamoured of this novel. The point of view of the narrative changes too many times for me, particularly towards the end of the book. I found this slightly problematic, especially since one of the voices was that of Line, a young woman trapped in a religious community in the midst of a frozen landscape whose story was only tenuously connected to the main plot. I also found the ending a bit rushed. It seemed to me that too many strands had been picked up and only loosely bundled together towards the end. Altogether it made an absorbing read but not an entirely satisfying one.