CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2009.
237 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.
Review by Caitlin Campbell.
Reviewed from Unedited Manuscript.
"Instead of telling me what you aren't, tell me what you are."
Felix considered his options, even as he watched the Romans at work. He couldn't tell this man the truth, and yet he couldn't lie to him. With a sigh, he tried to find a point in the middle.
"I've been burdened with a dreadful task, one more difficult than the trial that awaits you." Sitting up, Felix looked the ex-slave in the eye, "Billions are depending on the success of my mission. If I fail, if I don't reach Panarium, the entire human race will die, in Italy, in Britain and everywhere else. Although my story sounds preposterous, the fate of my world hangs upon a simple flower."
For a moment the pair of them exchanged stares with each other. Spartacus' features were impossible to read, and Felix was thinking the man would maybe stab him, or would burst out laughing at the tale he'd been told. At the very least he would place him under guard, either as a spy or, worse, a lunatic. Unexpectedly the ex-slave looked away and considered the toiling legions in the distance.
"You know how this will end," he observed, as if he were stating a fact, "I can see it in your eyes. You can divine the future."
"I can divine the past," Felix replied.
Fifteen-year-old Felix Taylor is somewhat of an oddity in 23rd century Toronto, and not only because he is one of the few left in the world who refuse to undergo ERR (or "Emotion Range Reduction"), an operation that suppresses emotion. Encouraged by his father, manager of the world's only book repository, Felix spends his days pouring over ancient texts and exploring the ruins of Rome (now only a 30-minute shuttle ride away). While 23rd century society sees history as nothing more than an unpleasant and irrelevant distraction, Felix seeks wisdom in the past as he studies literature, philosophy, and languages long dead. When a plague suddenly infects the planet, Felix and his father are the only ones who recognize the symptoms and know the cure. More than 2000 years before, the same plague spread over ancient Rome and the cure came in the form of a lone flower, lupus ridens, or "Laughing Wolf." This miraculous species of flower has been extinct for centuries, however, and so Felix must travel back in time to find the lupus ridens and save the future.
A satisfying blend of futuristic science fiction and time-travel fantasy, Laughing Wolf is a deeply thought-provoking novel that, like the best science fiction, provides ample thrills while engaging the audience in philosophical debate. Nicholas Maes asks readers to think seriously about the importance of history, the impact of religion, the nature of civilization and brutality, and the necessity of emotion. Maes peppers his vision of the future with imaginative details and enriches his historical settings by coupling compelling facts about ancient Rome with adventure and larger-than-life characters (like the gladiator turned revolutionary Spartacus). Felix is a likable protagonist, although he and his female counterpart Carolyn (a master of at least 15 martial arts) suffer from rather weak characterization——the novel's greatest shortcoming. All in all, however, Laughing Wolf is an entertaining and thoughtful read that will please fans of sci-fi and historical fiction alike.
Caitlin Campbell is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program at the University of British Columbia.
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