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Hunger Makes The Wolf by Alex Wells

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The strange planet known as Tanegawa’s World is owned by TransRifts Inc, the company with the absolute monopoly on interstellar travel. Hob landed there ten years ago, a penniless orphan left behind by a rift ship. She was taken in by Nick Ravani and quickly became a member of his mercenary biker troop, the Ghost Wolves.

Ten years later, she discovers that the body of Nick’s brother out in the dunes. Worse, his daughter is missing, taken by shady beings called the Weathermen. But there are greater mysteries to be discovered – both about Hob and the strange planet she calls home.
~~~~~
I was sold this novel as being Mad Max: Fury Road-reminiscent biker gangs in space with added union politics, written by an enby author. That’s so very far, obviously, up my street, both politically and aesthetically, so I have been waiting for this book for some time.

Turns out, Wells does not disappoint. Hunger Makes The Wolf is a combination of elements that should not work: parallel plotlines of a kind of quasi-mystical Gaia-esque planetary symbiosis, a mercenary biker gang rebelling against uncaring, profit-driven corporate overlords of the most awful capitalist kind, union organising activities, and international-corporate espionage shouldn’t all come together with the force and potency that they are achieved with. Each one is inextricably tied to the other two by emotional, political and human connections, so that the three run together, developing different aspects of the same storyline out, rather than separating out into disparate tales that don’t connect, giving the book a serious drive and punch (I stayed up until 5 in the morning to finish it, I couldn’t put it down). Wells writes action scenes with a fast paced breathlessness and mess that really puts the reader in the middle, and their control of the quieter, emotional or tense scenes is absolute: they really move the reader.

None of that would be possible without the characters of Hunger Makes The Wolf, though. This is a novel centred on two women, Hob and Mag, who each take charge of their own destinies in different ways; the former by embracing her mercenary biker life, the latter by becoming a passionate union organiser. The way Wells draws out the contrasts between the two, it’s clear they are very carefully showing two different, equally valid, equally fascinating models of resistance; within the law, technically, and nonviolent but disruptive, and totally outside it. The two characters are strong and fascinating and well-written, and Mag’s quiet queerness is absolutely wonderful: not something made a huge deal out of, just a subtly done little line or two threaded through the novel.

That’s not to say they’re the only two characters Wells gives any flesh to; Hunger Makes The Wolf practically overflows with characters, a true ensemble cast, and well used, to boot. From Nick, boss of the Ghost Wolves biker gang, to the Bone Collector, the strange, alien being who seems to know a lot more about what’s going on than he lets on, through the rest of the gang, the miners, and even the company employees who we meet and see as interesting humans in their own right, warped by capitalism and wilful ignorance of the deprivations of those around them, Well doesn’t let anyone they give a name to get away without a character, even if they only appear once or twice; those appearances are impressively characterising, the way cameos in a film can be.

If Hunger Makes The Wolf has a flaw, it’s in worldbuilding. We keep being teased with glimpses of a much broader universe, especially once Meetchim and Rollins enter the picture, and of something strange going on on Tanegawa’s World; but these are glimpses, frustrating hints that there’s a bigger picture that some of the characters know and won’t let us in on. Tanegawa’s World is itself fantastically portrayed and built, with the economics and ecology actually paid attention to, and the way the whole world is distorted by TransRift is eloquently displayed; it just would have been better to have either a clearer picture of the wider world we’re given glimpses of.

Hunger Makes The Wolf can perhaps best be described in musical terms: imagine the powerful, punchy, awesome death’n’roll of latter-day Satyricon married to the lyrical sensibilities of Billy Bragg in his most pro-trade union and leftist moments. Alex Wells managed to write a 400 page book with that kind of power and political urgency and heart, and I am so very much hoping for a sequel.

If you found this review useful, please support my ability to write these reviews by contributing to my Patreon. (As an added incentive, last week, patrons got this review with a bonus: a small selection of tracks to contextualise the musical comparisons in the closing paragraph)

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