Douglas Smith has made a name penning excellent sf, fantasy, and horror short stories, but he’s never had a novel in print until now. The Wolf at the End of the World, a contemporary fantasy, takes its principal inspiration from the lore of the Cree and Ojibwe peoples.
Smith took as a starting point his award-winning story, “Spirit Dance,” but the novel can be read without any prior knowledge of its world.
Title: The Wolf at the End of the World
Author: Douglas Smith
First published in September 2013
ISBN: 9780991800735, 0991800737
In the wake of a murder, a dam site in northern Ontario becomes the focus of supernatural doings. Shape-shifting Heroka, shadowy government agents, and a child of two worlds all find themselves embroiled in a plot conceived by ancient forces, long sleeping and now very much awake.
Many readers will have encountered some form of wendigo before, but Smith has set a standard for the creature. His wendigo feels true to Native lore, a representation of primal and cultural fears and, simultaneously, an entity with physical and fearful presence. In general, his Manitou function effectively on (at least) their two levels, concept and being.
Smith’s novel concerns itself principally with storytelling and theme. The characters have been drawn believably, but they might have been drawn with greater depth. The principal villain, despite his backstory, feels like a type rather than a realized person.
Halfway down, the pines thinned and then disappeared completely where forest had been cleared near the bottom. The slope ended at the road leading onto the top of the dam. Beyond the dam, the black surface of the lake rippled like some great beast shuddering itself awake in the night (4)
Originality: 3/6 The past few decades have served up a lot of fantasy with a contemporary setting, and no small amount of literature with Native references and environmental messages. Although many of Wolf‘s tropes will seem familiar, Smith has his own take on them, and he manages to be notably different from the contemporary fantasy mainstream. Don’t expect the usual werewolf trappings, or western theological underpinnings.
Imagery: 5/6 Smith creates believable worlds. The small town coexists with ineffable realities; imaginary creatures move with the weight of familiar ones.
Story: 5/6 The novel builds its world convincingly in the early chapters, and builds to a suspenseful final act. The conclusion proves satisfying in and of itself while permitting future adventures.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Editing: 5/6 Like a lot of current genre fiction, The Wolf at the End of the World straddles two world’s— I don’t mean Native and Western cultures, or the physical and spirit realms—but adult and YA. The novel could be enjoyed by either audience. The desire to reach that lucrative, younger audience, I suspect, leads to a style that often over-explains. Smith writes with clarity and power, though I found his first novel fell short of the standard set by his best stories.
This means, of course, that it still bests much contemporary fantasy.
Overall score: 5/6 I enjoyed the book, but (for me) it fell a little short of the expectations set by Smith’s excellent short fiction. I recommend it in particular to readers of urban fantasy, in particular, as he’s done something different with the genre. At the same time, its thematic concerns and page-turning tale will draw other audiences. I certainly see the potential for a series, and I hope it happens. Smith has produced a bewildering number of short stories, and deserves wider recognition.
In total, The Wolf at the End of the World receives 32/42