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BOOK REVIEW: Wolfsbane by Gillian Philip

REVIEW SUMMARY: A highly satisfying read, this third (out of four) book in Philip’s Rebel Angels series gets us one step closer to the dissolution of the veil that separates our world from the Sithe world. Meanwhile, Seth is trying to keep his clan safe and his son Rory out of trouble, and not succeeding with either.


PROS: Excellent characterization; well paced plot; Philip’s writing is sure to get an emotional reaction out of the reader as she builds on the previous installments in the series.
CONS: Change in character POVs and jumps between 1st person and 3rd person POV can be jarring; readers new to the series are not advised to leap right in at this volume.
BOTTOM LINE: While much Urban Fantasy hasn’t thrilled me, Philip’s Rebel Angels series easily defines everything I want out of an Urban Fantasy novel. If you’re in need of an UF palate cleanser and enjoy adventures into the Fae realm, this might be just the thing.

For those of you new to this multi-generational urban fantasy series, here’s a very quick and simplified recap of the story so far:

Our world, and the Sithe world are separated by the Veil. It’s an ill-kept secret in the Sithe World that the veil is weakening, and clans are going to war about how to best protect the veil. We first met protagonist Seth in Firebrand, where after his half-brother Conal angers the Sithe Queen, the brothers find themselves stuck on the wrong side of the veil, our side, in the British Isles of the 16th century. They get embroiled in witch hunts, and they have to choose between saving the woman Conal loves, and exposing themselves as supernatural creatures (which would instantly get them more intimately involved with the witch trials). In the second book, Bloodstone, hundreds of years and one generation has passed, and Seth is a father. He needs to decide how active he wants to be in his son Rory’s life and what to do with Rory’s older half-brother Jed, and meanwhile the Sithe Queen Kate has placed unrealistic demands on Seth’s family about finding a relic called the Bloodstone.

The Rebel Angels series is a saga of loyalty and familial love, the aftermath of betrayal, the long game, consequences, and facing mortality. Philip’s writing style immediately draws the reader in with intimate characterization, often humorous dialog, a fast paced plot, and stakes that just keep getting higher. As the series progresses, it also goes from being all about Seth to being about his family and his clan at large. By the time we get to Wolfsbane, the narrative has become an ensemble cast, with some POVs presented in 3rd person, and others in 1st person. The quick changes between 1st person and 3rd person were jarring and a little distracting, but not so much to knock me out of the story. Among others, the point of view characters include Seth, his teen-aged son Rory, Rory’s half-brother Jed, Conal’s niece Fionuala, a girl named Hannah, and Queen Kate.

You probably noticed a number of half-siblings in those previous paragraphs? In a world whose denizens live for hundreds of years with a gene pool that gets smaller every generation, it makes sense that Sithe ideas of monogamy and relationships are different than ours. Philip goes into quite a bit of detail about this, often within a conversation between a Sithe and a very confused mortal. When you live to be 500 years old, a relationship with a mortal is by default a short-term relationship. The Sithe may see most relationships differently than we do, but their loyalty to their families and their bound lovers puts us mortals to shame. There are certainly times when characters are forced to make horrible decisions to protect those they are romantically entangled with, but once you realize what Seth does for people he is related to, you’ll see him in a whole new light. Philip does many things very well, not least among them punching the reader right in the feels with characters often having to choose between a bad decision and a worse one.

Wolfsbane takes place about thirteen years after Bloodstone, and the plot revolves around Rory’s early failings of the Sithe community’s coming of age rites, the discovery of Hannah’s true identity, Seth and Fionuala coming to terms about how they feel about each other, Eili getting daily revenge on Seth for a crime he can never be absolved of, impending war over what to do about the veil, and Seth generally trying to keep his arguing family from killing each other. The way things are going in Seth’s clan, Queen Kate doesn’t need to do a thing, as the family is tearing itself apart from the inside. Kate’s sovereignty depends on the loyalty of her people, which means Seth’s rebellious clan needs to submit to her, or be destroyed, and she’ll use every dangerous means at her disposal to win the loyalty of every living Sithe. She’s got a growing number of ultra creepy Lammyr working for her, which keep the outlying clans terrified of speaking out against her. I’ve purposely left out a lot of plot points because I don’t want to give spoilers for earlier books in the series.

The story flies along at a very fast pace and assumes that all readers have read the series in order, starting with Firebrand, and then Bloodstone, and then Wolfsbane. Philip has an easy to get into, matter of fact writing style, but don’t let that fool you: She’s seamlessly hidden hints in nearly every chapter regarding secret identities and the larger picture.

Something I continually enjoy about this series is how Philip draws her characters. None of these people want to be seen as vulnerable, or soft, or scared, but each one of them is all of those things. You won’t see it when you first meet Seth, or Conal, or Fionnuala or even Queen Kate, but like the Sithe Queen, Philip plays the long game when it comes to characterization. At first it’s easy to view Seth as a bristly and impulsive pain in the rear, but once you get to know him, it’s easy to see that’s just a facade. I also couldn’t help but laugh my head off every time Seth tries to keep Rory from doing the things that every single teenaged boy wants to do, the exact same things that Seth easily got away with when he was that age.

Most urban fantasy hasn’t done it for me, but with it’s heavily developed fae culture and mythology, political maneuvering, emotional gut punches, and simply fantastic characterization, Philip’s Rebel Angels series is Urban Fantasy done right. Philip has completed the series, and the fourth and final book, Icefall, while currently available in the UK does not yet have a U.S. release date.

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.
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