Rhamin - a fantasy novel by Bryce Thomas

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Rhamin by Bryce Thomas

When a wolf discovers he can communicate with a young boy and then later discovers he can communicate in a different way with  the boy's little sister, he tries to get them to help save some of his pack. Nobody said it was going to be easy. But the wolf is an easy-going character whose honour, friendship and good humour overcome fear, betrayal and greed. Tense scenes and lots of danger and drama will keep you enthralled.

From a review by Simon Blake: http://simonblake.org.uk/scribbles

I first became aware of this book on a visit to my local Waterstones. I had not long written my post about wolves, when I walked past a bloke signing copies of a book that has a picture of the main character, an exceptionally large black wolf called Rhamin, on the cover. Stick a picture of a wolf on anything and I'm sold. Yep, it's that easy. I just had to find out more.

The bloke turned out to be Bryce Thomas, and this was his first novel. We had a brief chat and having flicked through a few pages I agreed to buy a copy of the book. Mr. Thomas said that it was a book for older children, but that he hoped it had something in it for everyone. He also said that he was proud of his book and passionate about its subject, wolves. Somehow Mr. Thomas had already heard of me and showed interest when I suggested that I review the book honestly on my blog. This was possibly the first time I have agreed to review a book before I had read it, so I was nervous, mainly because I was making the offer to the author himself. I just hoped it was good; having to give a bad review to someone who lived near me and who was newly published was not something to look forward to. Luckily for me I don't have to, Rhamin is an awesome read.

On the author's website, I refused to read any of the spiel about the book until I was a good half way or so in. I wanted to decode its message for myself. Early on in the text I got the sense of the story being less about wolves and more about relationships in general. There are several dynamics to consider:

Firstly there is the group dynamic of the pack itself. The characters are independent souls held together by a strong sense of unity, despite being placed in a difficult situation to start with. There are tensions which are not unlike those found in any group, but one wolf in particular is bent on causing trouble. This forges another dynamic, that of sibling rivalry, which eventually boils over into a fully fledged feud. These dynamics stretch throughout the text into tensions between wolves and other animals struggling to survive and also the pack and a family of humans who misunderstand the intentions of their canid neighbours. There are other, easier aspects to the relationships too though. Love, friendship, honour and respect are all strong messages within this book. Sometimes the wolves respect physical strength, but there are other things that earn their respect too, like compassion and humour, leadership and kindness.

The wolves themselves are anthropomorphic and the interaction between them and with others has been somewhat exaggerated. When it comes to the complexity endowed on their culture and communication we are stepping into the realms of Kipling or C.S. Lewis, but at no point during the reading of this text did I think "this simply could not happen", not just because I am not a wolf and therefore have no idea how well they can communicate, but also because each character is so well defined that the way they speak and their mannerisms and quirks are exactly as you would expect them to be. Being able to craft characters that are so well-rounded and believable is a rare skill, which shows just how much work has gone into polishing this book over many years.

There are strong moral messages running through this book too. Messages about how we view and treat nature as a race of humans, who once lived in harmony with it, but now choose instead to try to control it, thus ruining the environment and the lives of the animals that inhabit it, in the process. There is a message here also about how we are often quick to judge others. We must not only spend time getting to know someone before we decide who or what they are, but also be open to changes in others and yourself and react accordingly, for good or bad. Something we are all guilty of not doing.

Sometimes when you read a book there are times when, even in the best stories, you get the impression that the author is filling in a gap with a conversation or a scene. This pause in the text is sometimes an annoyance and looking back you realise that it had no meaning or reason to be there. Rhamin, I am delighted to say, dispenses with such irrelevances. Every scene, even those portraying the pack's quieter moments, appears relevant and adds to the story and deepens the reader's connection to the characters.

There are several action sequences throughout the book that are powerful and well described. Thomas manages to choreograph each fight well, yet portray the confusion, instinctiveness, opportunism and sheer violence of real combat. He is not afraid to kill a character either and manages often to do so with a bluntness that reflects a wolf's own attitude to death.

Another excellent feature of this book is the way in which information about the lifestyles, cultures, actions, emotions, history and biology of wolves is woven seamlessly into the text. I got the sense that I was being educated about wolfkind as well as being entertained by the tale itself. Therein lies the point of the book in a sense. Rhamin, apart from wanting to spin a good yarn, aims to bring the wolf to mind as a real creature that has real needs. Freedom, food, water, shelter and safety. Qualities of life we would want for ourselves. In order for us to understand the wolf, we are being encouraged to better understand our own needs and realise that we are not that different from the other animals. Our methods may be different, perhaps better, but we are guilty all the same of taking too much away from other creatures who are trying only to ensure their own survival.

Readers who enjoyed Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series would love this book, but I would encourage everyone to buy a copy. Not only is it well written, with characters we all recognise and empathise with, regardless of their nature and scenes that play emotional games with you and drive you further into the story, but it is a book that you will want to read again and again. Rhamin, I predict, will in time become a well-loved classic enjoyed by readers of all ages for generations to come.

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