Plot/Idea: The First Wolf Pack is an inventive story about the original pack of the title, chronicling both the group's coming together and their conflicts. The plot tends to be the most compelling when it drives forward through tense action scenes, as opposed to more abstract musings that have a tendency to grow repetitive.
Prose: Reed's prose, coming from the voice of Bingley, is refined, polished, and entertainingly professorial in nature. While Bingley's personal intrusions into the narrative are often delightful and informative, they can come across as jarring at other moments.
Originality: The First Wolf Pack has a highly original premise, about one dog's valiant attempt to speak to humans and correct the historical record. These ideas are teased out creatively over the course of the narrative, with the pack's similarity to humans and connection to modern animals being explored in imaginative ways.
Character Development/Execution: Reed nails down a canine's complicated, complex personality, particularly in moments of infighting within the pack itself. In terms of character motivations, though, the text (due to Bingley's POV) has a tendency to keep defining decisions as unknowable mysteries, as opposed to providing answers.
Date Submitted: June 07, 2022
"The First Wolf Pack: A Dog's Fable by J. Daniel Reed is a historical and philosophical tale that traces the history of the human and canine relationship and how this has contributed to the shaping of human civilization. Bingley is the contemporary canine storyteller of the first wolf pack that features the exploits of Arn and Versa, powerful wolves that used to be adversaries but are now forced to work together if they are to survive. Together, they become formidable, and they impart their knowledge and skills to their offspring to continue their dominance and keep enemies at bay. Bingley, as the narrator, exudes a tone of pride for, despite being born from a long line of English terriers, he claims to possess identical genetics to Canis lupus.
The First Wolf Pack reminds me of Paul Auster's Timbuktu in the way J. Daniel Reed presents a narrative that doesn't make use of anthropomorphism but prefers to rely on strong realism in Bingley's carefully-drawn voice. It's an intelligent method, and it works because an animal storyteller is a huge welcome for its uniqueness in the first-person POV of usually human characters in fiction. Reed explores the very essence of wolfness and dogness. You almost feel like crawling on all fours as the book is rich in the basic instincts that have shaped canine evolution and what made us humans fall in love with them. He has written something different. Is it an allegory of the human condition? Partially. What the book succeeds in doing and why I highly recommend it is its powerful presentation of what a wolf's life could be, and how a dog narrator enables you to savor the sights, smells and sounds from his perspective."
The First Wolf Pack: A Dog's Fable
Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.
J. Daniel Reed’s fantasy tale of The First Wolf Pack draws the reader into an imaginary world of two mighty predators who must decide to survive together or fight to the death.
When an accidental hunting convergence brings two of the greatest ancient wolves into mortal combat, they realize they are so equally matched that they must use their great intelligence to seek a common goal: survival. Versa and Arn begin to care for each other. Together, they derive an ethic called the Wolf Ways.
Told in the manner of the great sagas, the narrator, a contemporary dog named Bingley, reveals the secret of contemporary dog heritage through Versa and Arn’s story. Bingley’s tale is filled with lofty wisdom and bits of advice on how to be a family; not just any family but the best at parenting, the best at sharing the role of an alpha couple in a pack, the best at finding nutritious food and cooperation—the first Wolf Way.
Versa and Arn are notably the first at many things, including digging an inground den to raise their first litter. As the family grows into the First Pack, Versa and Arn form the first wolf council, the Magnificent Ones, and establish the first Wolf Utterance. Soon the offspring grow toward maturity and ponder their parents’ ways. Why do they prosper and live in a pack and work together and not fight like the lone wolves?
When an intruder assimilates into the alpha family, they teach him their ways, leading to harsh consequences. Eventually, other lone wolves outside the First Pack hatch a plot to attack, and the scattered family packs reunite, hoping initially to make peace and teach the others the Wolf Ways.
The story occasionally lapses into buzzable page-turning moments, such as when Versa turns to Arn and asks, “Are you as amazed at this crazy, unique life we created? There are no lone wolves who live like we or that know what we know.”
When Tria is suffering from her turmoil, it takes her father to remind her of her greatness and uniqueness and why she’s driven: “Only you, daughter, share our genes, strength, and cleverness,” he tells her, “and only you can teach the wolf ways.” The advice changes his daughter’s heart, much like taking a Dale Carnegie class, the narrator explains.
The author has created an epic saga of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, or other Norse legends of old, even faintly reminiscent of Eden and the first humans. We learn how humans and wolves intertwine. Those who love poring over those tales will thoroughly enjoy The First Wolf Pack: A Dog’s Fable.