James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Lost Voices 25: House of the Wolf by M.K. Wren

House of the Wolf

By M. K. Wren 

13 May, 2000

Lost Voices


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

House of the Wolf

M.K. Wren

Berkley [1981]

310 pages

Synopsis: Book three of The Phoenix Legacy, HotW is well after a series of droughts, epidemics and nuclear wars destroyed our civilization. A civilization armed with high technology was reborn in Australia, spread to conquer the world and eventually, the stars [For values of the stars’ equal to Alpha Centauri’, expeditions father afield being unsuccessful to date]. The PanTerran Confederation inherited a fairly odious caste system: attempts to liberalize it led to civil war and the post-war Concord is dominated by highly reactionary politics.

Two brothers are born to the House of Dekoven Woolf. 

One brother decides that the Bonds [the lowest of the three classes] must be freed. To this end, he joins the Phoenix, a revolutionary group. He deliberately allows himself to be caught and martyred.

His brother Alexand joins the armed forces but eventually deserts for the Phoenix, allowing everyone, including his sweetie, to think he has been killed. He enjoys great success in the Phoenix until a usurper, Ussher, worms his way int other leadership. Ussher thinks the Phoenix can break the Concord. He sees himself as the new Lord of Alpha Centauri and betrays Alexand to the secret police, seeing Alexand as competition for leadership of the Phoenix. Alexand escapes and returns to rescue the scientist who has made matter transmission possible. He is badly wounded. On learning that his beloved has apparently been killed, he lapses into a coma.

Of course, his wife-to-be, Adrien, is still alive: an expendable bond girl was mistaken for her. Adrien is reunited with Alexand and his split-off faction of the Phoenix. She is very pregnant and soon gives birth to twins.

Ussher orders an attack on the Concord. While greatly damaging the Concord, Alexand’s faction disarms a possible Bond rebellion [Thinking it would just lead to more reaction and a lot of dead Bonds] the attack was to cause and the Phoenix loses roughly half its fleet. Alexand returns to the Phoenix just after the attack ends: panicking, Ussher flees to Lord Orin Selasis, an arch-reactionary. This is a miscalculation on Ussher’s part: Selasis has him tortured for information and eventually Ussher dies.

Alexand goes to his grandfather Galinin, who is head of the Concord, to try and negotiate a peace. The negotiations are successful but Selasis’ assassin Hawkwind throws a bomb through the door of Galinin’s office as the negotiations end, badly wounding Galinin. Alexand is assumed to be the killer and is arrested. His father, thinking Alexand to be a terrorist, agrees to sentence him to death. Galinin is in a come and can’t explain.

Selasis makes an error: tired of his chief assassin, who has missed three targets, Selasis, who belongs to the Baron Harkonen school of employee management, orders Hawkwind killed. As well, Hawkwind’s beloved wife is ordered killed as well. The wife is killed before Hawkwind. Hawkwind, a religious man, decides that God wants him to kill Selasis. He heads to the execution ground to do this.

Adrien also heads to the execution to kill her father-in-law and Selasis. She bumps into Hawkwind, who explains to her she need not.

Galinin awakes long enough to clear Alexand and issues various orders about the succession and then dies. Alexand is freed. He and his father are reconciled.

Hawkwind stabs Selasis with a poisoned dagger. He then presents a package of evidence to the bystanders outlining all the nasty things Selasis has ordered done. He then dies, having taken poison.

The book ends with a long letter, suggesting that reforms are not, despite the rise of Alexand to power, uniformly supported, that the struggle to free the Bonds will be long and difficult but worth doing.

This is a rather odd book. The cover art suggests that Berkley was aiming it at the Regency Romance market. The plot is highly melodramatic, as is the dialogue. On the other hand, there are long excepts from various histories leading up to the crisis detailed in the three books and Wren obviously gave her future history some thought, so it is a pity the story as told isn’t as good as I think Wren imagined it to be or as it might have been.

She avoids having Alexand waves his magic revolution wand and free the Bonds to a glorious life of freedom [Picture of Bonds holding up Alexand’s Little Red Book as Alexand’s head rises like the Sun over the horizon], so points for that. The plot regarding the matter transmitters, although useful to explain how the Phoenix could get in and out of secure areas, seems tacked on. I almost wish that Wren had at some point in her career gone back and written less florid accounts of the period after the Disasters, because the historical bits are often more interesting than the Phoenix Legacy.

Wren seems to have dropped SF for mysteries, none of which I have read and so can not comment on. She did write one more SF novel I am aware of, A Gift Upon the Shore , which I remember as far better written than TPL, although the plot of AGUTS leads up an absolutely infuriating development where


the antagonist religious nut burns what may be the last surviving library after WWIII, which is why I didn’t feel like rereading it right now.

M.K. Wren is a pseudonym for Martha Kay Renfroe.