This is the debut novel by Huggins, an author I used to really love and then kind of fell away from after a couple of mediocre books. I’ve decided to go back and read his entire bibliography in order because a) that’s the kind of **** I do & b) he only wrote nine books. This one, I feel, holds up. It’s one of those novels about the beasts of the forest and a struggle between good and evil. The characters here are not deep, but Huggins is going for archetypes, so it works. Some of the good characters are a bit flat, being all virtue and nothing else, but Huggins excels at writing sympathetic characters that are in over their heads, like Saul, a bold rabbit being pursued by an evil and psychotic wolf, or Aramus, a wolf struggling to live up to the legacy of his father. Among the evil characters, Incomel, an evil panther, stands out as actually having a bit of development. Huggins likes to do lengthy conversations/monologues about the nature of good & evil, so hopefully you’re up for that, but he balances it with what is his biggest strength, something that’s even better than I remembered, an ability to write breathless action. The violence here is graphic and intense and the characters carry the wounds they receive for the rest of the story instead of shrugging them off in typical action novel style. That’s really what separates him from a lot of other thriller writers and certainly a lot of fantasy writers. But if the atmosphere of grim dread is one of the strengths of thebook, one of the weaknesses is the refusal to contrast that with anything in the way of humor. I don’t think there’s a single humorous moment in the entire novel which is pretty rare, even for super dark books. But, on the whole, this book is a successful thrill-ride. Even among some of the lengthy philosophical conversations, I found it to be a real page-turner. I hope I like the rest of his bibliography as much as a I like this one. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – good & evil battle among the forest animals; a palpably grim atmosphere and bracing, breath-taking violence make this one stand out from the pack. 3 ½ stars.