Novella Review: City of Wolves by Willow Palecek

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

City of WolvesCity of Wolves by Willow Palecek

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Tor.com (July 26, 2016)

Length: 112 pages

Author Information: Website

Out of Tor.com’s big lineup of releases for this summer, City of Wolves was one that immediately caught my eye and I’m glad I got a chance to read it. New author Willow Palecek has written an outstandingly well-developed and complete tale in a brisk 100 pages or so, while still managing to leave me salivating for more. I’ve always had a penchant for paranormal Victorian mysteries and detective stories; throw in werewolves too, and I am totally game.

The story’s protagonist is Alexander Drake, an investigator-for-hire in the bustling Victorian London-esque city of Lupenwald. A former soldier who fought on the losing side for a deposed king, Drake now prefers to stay under the radar, taking on modest opportunities while staying away from jobs offered by the nobility even though they often pay a lot better. He’s forced to reconsider that position, however, when he finds himself ambushed one evening by Lord Colin Abergreen’s hired goons. Cornering Drake in an alleyway and dangling a large purse as an incentive, the nobleman makes our detective an offer he can’t refuse.

Drake, now retained by the Abergreens, agrees to investigate the strange death of the family’s patriarch, Colin’s father. The older man was found dead in the gardens right beneath the shattered window of his chambers, his body completely naked. Old Lord Abergreen was also fond of keeping dogs, a large wolf-like breed that Lupenwald is famous for, and apparently the dogs were fond of him too, as indicated by the canine teeth marks on his corpse. Curiously, the man died without leaving a will, which is rather unusual for a nobleman. The easy thing to do would be to chalk this up to an inheritance dispute, but Drake thinks there’s something more to this case, especially when a werewolf follows him home afterwards and tries to kill him…

I’m impressed with all that Palecek was able to pack into this very slim volume, which features well-crafted characters and a fast-paced plot. Hardly any words are wasted here, as in, blink and you might miss something.

There are both positives and negatives to this, of course. City of Wolves feels very much like other paranormal mysteries of its type, except it accomplishes everything in one third the number of pages. The story is very streamlined, with hardly an ounce of fat on it. The mystery takes off at a fast clip and never falters, and I liked that there was never a dull moment. Still, just because the plot is so efficient, doesn’t mean things aren’t tough for our detective. There are plenty of suspects to consider, and just as many scenarios to ponder in the face of perplexing clues and unexpected twists. There are even a couple scenes of thrilling action and chase sequences to shake things up.

As for the downsides, the world-building feels a bit lean, admittedly. Drake zips from one place to another, and aside from a few cursory observations about his surroundings, we don’t get to see much of the city, and I feel like I’ve been robbed of the opportunity to experience Lupenwald in all its glory. I also failed to get a sense of atmosphere from the writing, which to me is such an important aspect of Victorian-era style fiction.

Furthermore, Drake identifies himself as a Loyalist, something that’s clearly significant to his character and goes back to the War of the Wolves, a fight for the throne between two would-be kings. The book doesn’t dwell much on the conflict, but what little background was revealed about it was very intriguing. If the story could have been a little longer, I would have liked to see more of Lupenwald’s sights and sounds and for the narrative to fill in more of the world’s history—especially since the war was so obviously a defining event for our main protagonist.

Needless to say, I would love for there to be a sequel. I wouldn’t hesitate to read another Alexander Drake novella, especially if future installments will be as enjoyable as this one. City of Wolves was a quick, entertaining read and what I saw definitely left me wanting more.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

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15 Comments on “Novella Review: City of Wolves by Willow Palecek

  1. Great review. This is definitely a story that could have been full length I felt. It is very streamlined and certainly hasn’t got an ounce of fat – like you said – but I absolutely wanted more. The author does a brilliant job with the time she uses but I definitely felt the lack of atmosphere – I wanted to experience that gothic creepy, dark alley, footsteps in the fog Victorian-esqu style coming through! As it is I don’t think the author had a chance to fit that in. I really liked this though and I’m seriously hoping that this was just a taster to see how readers liked it with a view to then releasing something more?
    Lynn 😀

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    • It feels like all my novella reviews read like “I liked what I saw, but wished it was a full length novel!” In this case it was absolutely true though. I could totally picture me liking this even more if it had more flesh on its bones 😀

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  2. Nice to see a well paced novella! Sometimes that’s hard to achieve with such a low page count. I’m eager to read more werewolf stories, especially after reading the Devourers. Hopefully I can find time to squeeze this in.

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  3. Sometimes there are books that could do with a reduced number of pages, and that fill many of those pages with redundant information. Then there are books we want to be more… talkative, and aren’t – to our extreme disappointment: this seems to be the case, indeed. With so many interesting premises, there is maybe hope for more in the next book(s). 🙂

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    • There’s room to grow, for sure. I was looking for a quick read at the time though, so it was exactly what I was looking for – and satisfied me at that 🙂

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  4. The cover of this one snags my attention a lot. I’m pretty tempted to check it out since I’m all about paranormal mysteries that include werewolves. It’s a short commitment too. I’ll have try to find it at my library.

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  5. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking The Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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