So it has been almost 5 years since I read The Enchantment Emporium. I don’t think this is the longest gap between consecutive novels in a series that I’ve had, but it must be close. Predictably, I remember nearly nothing about that book, which is exactly why I write these reviews in the first place. Fortunately, Tanya Huff has written The Wild Ways such that even if you haven’t read the first book, or if, like me, you read it and then forgot it after 5 years, then you can still make sense of this one. I really appreciate that, and it’s but one of the many reasons I enjoyed this novel.
The Wild Ways follows Charlie (Charlotte) Gale. She is a “Wild Power” of the Gale family, which apparently means it is her destiny to wander and get involved in more scrapes and … well … be a wild card more so than the rest of her siblings and cousins, who are more likely to settle down and stick around other members of the family. In this case, for Charlie it means squaring off against another Gale Wild Power, Auntie Catherine. Catherine has stolen the pelts of several selkies off the coast of Cape Breton Island in an attempt to get them to capitulate to an oil company that wants to drill nearby. Charlie needs to retrieve the pelts and best her aunt, but there are of course deeper games afoot.
I love how these books are set in Canada. Huff’s writing reminds me in many ways of Charles de Lint, not just because of the Canadian setting. But there is something so comfortable about all the Canadian touches in this book, like the constant mentions of the CBC and other Canadian media. Sometimes, with the way American settings saturate our fiction, it’s so easy to forget that there is often this distinct atmosphere to Canadian stories. Huff really captures that, and it’s great.
Another highlight of The Wild Ways? The banter. The character interactions in general, I guess. There is certainly never a dull moment in the Gale family. The supporting cast is a little more milquetoast; most of them seem to be there only to serve as these stock, background characters, and they all seem to have about the intelligence you would expect from someone who smokes too much weed and plays in a Celtic-inspired folk band…. Similarly, not a huge fan of the portrayal of the antagonist, her minion, or the selkies in general. Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that I really like the diversity of voices and opinions within the Gale family. They really do feel like a family: Charlie and Alysha square off over Jack once in a while; the aunties get involved, directly or obliquely … everyone wants what is best for each other, or for the family, even if not everyone agrees what that might be at any given moment.
The plot manages to match the characters in how engrossing and entertaining it can be. There is a strong environmental message here, of course. At its core, though, this is a plot about Charlie coming into her own and finding the power/music inside of herself. In this sense, The Wild Ways is spectacular. Huff’s writing is note-perfect, and I can almost feel the music coming through the book as she portrays Charlie channelling it to channel her power and save the day. At the climax, Charlie and Jack both get moments to shine. I really love how, after Catherine divulges to Charlie why she is doing what she did and why she thinks Charlie needs to go along with her plan, Charlie ignores Catherine and finds another way—and it works. This is an example of one my favourite story tropes, the anticlimax boss (TVTropes!)—where a Big Bad threat is made out to be … well, Big and Bad, yet the hero dispatches it near the end of the story with little to no effort (because the real threat, already vanquished, was more insidious by far).
Huff has managed to create a modern, urban fantasy series that balances humour with high stakes in a way that is endearing but not cheesy. She never overloads on exposition, preferring instead to have the reader infer what, for example, a “Hunt” might entail from the little details she drops in dialogue and sparse description. As a result, the world is rich but not mundanely catalogued for the reader, and the story moves at a healthy pace.
In my review of The Enchantment Emporium, I touched a little on gender and sexuality in that novel, and I want to return to that here. In addition to the apparent pansexuality of the Gale (women?), there are some more queer characters in this book. The gender essentialism continues, both among the Gales (to some extent) and the selkies (although that is at least lampshaded). There is a lot of discussion and portrayal of sex/sexual situations here … Huff works hard to subvert the male gaze and turn the tables into a “female gaze” by objectifying many of the men (and some of the women). I see what she’s doing and acknowledge how that can be a useful critique, but honestly, least favourite part of the book. Although I don’t consider myself sex-repulsed, the constant emphasis on attraction in The Wild Ways left my poor ace brain squirming. If you are sex-repulsed … um … yeah. Fair warning, I guess? This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story one bit, but boy is this book obsessed with sex. Oh my.
Let’s hope it isn’t another 5 years before I finally read book 3!