"A Hunter Among Wolves" review
Title: A Hunter Among Wolves
Author: Ben Stava
Subgenre: Sword and Sorcery
2022 Bingo squares: Standalone, Cool weapon, Rebellion, Published in 2022
Recommended if: you are specifically looking for an extremely fast-paced, short sword-and-sorcery novella
Not recommended if: mostly not recommended. I didn’t think this was very good.
LGBTQ rep: The protagonist is implied to be bi
“Ay! Get back here, you…” the leader shouted back into the tunnel at the retreating thug. Then he pointed his blade at Sylene. “More for me, then.”
From its frenetic pacing to its video-game-NPC dialogue to its uncomfortably erotic torture scene, A Hunter Among Wolves has a lot of issues. This probably should have been a DNF, but the one thing it does have going for it is that it’s short enough to not be too big a time investment so I figured I may as well finish it so I could write a full review and see if it got any better (it did not).
The premise is that Sylene is a bounty hunter who’s been, for some reason, exiled (?) from the Empire. She receives an offer to have her record purged if she completes one last assignment. An offer like this is too good to turn down, no matter what the catch might be….
The overarching problem is scale: A Hunter Among Wolves attempts to tackle an entire epic fantasy novel’s plot in the length of a novella, complete with a side quest or two, which end up being relevant to the main plot. As a result, there’s no room for any kind of descriptive text, characterization, or worldbuilding that explains to the reader what really is going on or makes the reader care about any of the characters or events.
A side effect of the scale and pacing is that there’s no time for the reader to get to know the vast number of characters involved or remember anyone’s name. I didn’t really bother trying to keep up with who was who, but if I’d wanted to, it would have been nearly impossible.
And there’s also no time for any real characterization - not of people, or of locations, or of society. We don’t really know what the Empire Sylene’s been exiled from is like, or why she wants to return to it. We don’t know why she’s fighting for it. We don’t know what she’s fighting for. We don’t really know if we should be rooting for her or not. We don’t really know…anything.
It can sometimes be okay to read a story where you don’t know anything about any of the people, places, or things, and you just read it for the plot; if you are, for example, waiting at an airport and unable to concentrate on anything for more than thirty seconds at a time, A Hunter Among Wolves might be the perfect novella to read while you wait to board - entire arcs go by in minutes, and you’ll finish the novella in no time at all. But mostly, this novella reads like an early-career project - an accomplishment to have written anything at all, for sure - but definitely not a polished work.