Wolf Smoke, by Poe Casavant

Wolf Smoke by Poe Casavant is a science fiction novel set in the not too distant future. Limited nuclear attacks and other wars have placed the earth in grave danger to the point where something must be done if the life on this planet is going to survive. Sarah is forced to be part of this solution which will involve gladiators replacing soldiers. These competitions will decide disagreements between countries instead of destroying the environments and costing thousands of lives.

Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Sky Forest Press
Published: 2018
Reviewer Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer:  Michael D. Griffiths

Sarah and her teammates from the United States had no choice and were forced into being members of the team. Sarah is a thrill seeker, but no soldier. Quite the contrary, she is insecure and shows the primary sign of schizophrenia, which is hearing voices. These voices constantly put her down and tear her apart. These feeling of uncertainty only increase when she discovers she is to be the team leader of USA.

Despite being a disorganized gathering of individuals, under Sarah’s leadership, the team gets serious, begins training, and maps out the giant multi-level arena. They win their first match which gives them greater confidence and resources. The first match was just with paintballs, but when Sarah is then informed, she will be required to be in battles where she is forced to fight to the death, the mood changes and everyone realizes these are not just games, but a life and death situation they have found themselves within.

Sarah must juggle missing her husband with the tensions of needing support while surrounded by men she is attracted to. She also develops allies amongst the other teams and moves into a position where team USA has the strength to not only take this competition seriously, but to excel not only for themselves but their country. But mixed with this is her personal conflicts, including her mental illness, and her continued self-doubt not just in herself but her ability to keep the teammates she leads alive.

This is a strong novel and would have gotten a higher grade from me if it were not for a few, at least in my opinion, flaws. The first glaring one is the voices. As I stated, this is one of the primary signs of schizophrenia and this illness is not some piecemeal thing which just pops up and can compartmentalized. When you have this mental illness, it destroys your life. I understand this is just a literacy device, to map out Sarah’s uncertainties, but I think a little more research should be conducted before using this as a writing tool.

Also, Sarah goes from being an untrained insecure young woman to an unstoppable fighter with little flaws. I like normal people becoming heroes, but to go from uncertain to perfect seemed a bit of an extreme change. Lastly, simply put, the idea of gladiators fighting instead of armies is more than a bit cliché. Sometimes I wonder how much genre reading new authors partake in before they start writing their novels.

These flaws aside, this was a strong novel. I think Casavant took a promise which could lead to nationalist or racist situations and handled them well. I was glad to see none of this in the novel. She also did a great job developing Sarah and many of the other characters.

I read this novel quickly which is always a good sign. I wanted to find out how this would work out for team USA and their allies. There were even a few tear-jerking moments which are also hard to pull off.

Wolf Smoke is an entertaining novel and a good absorbing read. I would recommend it to younger readers who like the Hunger Games and such novels. I also think most lover of action-packed science fiction would enjoy this one, I know I did.

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