What the heck. I stopped doing book reviews a long time ago, and for good reasons. But this author needs more attention on her stuff because it’s good. Really, really good, and I want her to write more. So for purely selfish reasons…
Red Wolf is, so far, two novellas that are either science fiction or fantasy, depending on how you feel about time/parallel universe travel conceits. So I’m going to call them science fantasy and move on.
Sabrina Chase’s science fiction is where I started reading her, with Scent of Metal. Her work is just enough skewed from expectations to both be very well grounded in human interactions, but also fresh and original stories. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Red Wolf, based on having read her previous stuff, but I also look at the number of reviews and think what the heck? Why aren’t there more?
Red Wolf opens with a young woman on a world very like our own, but not quite. For one thing, there’s been a nuclear event that has left a large region in Asia very dangerous to travel into. This is where Nic, the main character, is heading, in hopes of proving herself to her uncle. She’s been training for this for a very long time, and has the equipment to survive her experience. The plan is to get in, spend a few weeks recording her experience in this no-man’s land, and get out. She falls in with a small group that are trying to find tourist attractions – the sorts of tourists who will do anything for thrills – and offers her special skills to explore a cave for them.
Except, then something weird happens. When she comes out, the world is changed. It’s here that the story really gets going, and I found myself enjoying the descriptions of living rough, surviving on almost nothing, and Nic learning that she would have to figure out this new world on her own. It’s here, also, where the story shifts it’s feet. You start out in a modern, science-driven world, and when she comes out of the cage, it’s feudal China (all right, not really China, but an analog of it) and the people firmly believe in spirits, ghosts, and demons. Nic doesn’t speak their language, has a healthy respect for the dangers of so much as a scratch, and no idea how to find a safe place where she can live.
I won’t spoil the story for you. I will say that the two novellas are by no means all of the full-length novel (series?) and the story is being serialized on Amazon. Or you can go buy the full thing as an eARC. So if you dislike cliffhangers, you may want to wait until part three is on Amazon.
I liked very much how Chase writes her character. She sets up all of the pieces before dropping Nic into the deep stuff, from having her trained in fighting, to having at least a small amount of first-aid supplies. The bits where Nic is trying to keep herself alive and getting steadily dirtier and hungrier feel right. There’s no glossing over the danger of the situation. Even once Nic finally manages to make contact with humans, it’s only getting more and more dangerous. The plotting is masterfully balanced here, with small believable wins, and the occasional slip that could be fatal. Nic isn’t perfect, and doesn’t know everything (like the language) but she does her best to learn, and to cope, while being helpful and loyal to those who help her along the way. I liked the good guys, and loathed the bad guys.
If you’d rather read a full novel, try out Last Mage Guardian, which is a sort of regency romance magic adventure tale, a very different feel than the Red Wolf books, and then the others in that series.