I read The Wolves of Winter for Bookmarked earlier this year. An original version of this review appears on that site.
As nuclear war and the deadly Asian flu pandemic tore the world apart, Lynn McBride and her family fled civilization for the Canadian Yukon. After years of enduring harsh conditions with little to no contact with the outside world, 23-year-old Lynn longs for more. When a stranger named Jax arrives with a dog named Wolf, Lynn sees a glimpse of the world beyond her log cabin. But that glimpse includes threats and secrets she may not be prepared for.
Let’s get into it…
With an inciting incident that includes superhuman fighting skills and a shadowy government organization called Immunity, The Wolves of Winter starts strong. There’s plenty of action and intrigue as Lynn hunts, fights, and flees from sinister medical personnel, and author Tyrell Johnson balances this well with existential concerns and mystery. Is there something for Lynn in the wider world? What was her biologist father up to before his death? And what do those secrets mean for her? The setting also contributes to the novel’s promising start. The Yukon winter is ever-present, adding a sense of urgency and impending danger whenever Lynn leaves shelter behind.
Despite its promising start, The Wolves of Winter doesn’t quite deliver when it comes to providing novelty. Lynn is yet another feisty female archer. Bow skills and a reliance on her dead father’s survival teachings make her a 23-year-old version of Katniss Everdeen if instead of participating in the Hunger Games she’d fled into the wilderness with her family and developed a taste for Walt Whitman.
Jax plays the role of male romantic interest with a dark past. The superhuman abilities he displays certainly add interest. But with the narrative following Lynn, he’s given little opportunity for character development. This, in turn, makes it difficult to care much about the romance plot line. I found Lynn’s relationships with the other members of her small settlement more interesting. With them all so focussed on day-to-day survival, there isn’t a lot of time dedicated to sharing feelings. Yet there’s a clear dedication to one another that I enjoyed exploring.
What makes this novel more than a woman versus nature tale is the Asian Flu pandemic plotline. This element gives the novel its sci-fi elements and its main antagonists, Immunity. Unfortunately, The Wolves of Winter doesn’t always explain how the flu works and the damage it causes (or will cause) in a way that feels natural, occasionally drifting into exposition-heavy dialogue. If you’ve ever been bothered by villains who give monologues in movies, this will probably rub you the wrong way.
Final thoughts: The Wolves of Winter does a good job at keeping the pages turning. It’s not the most original story, but the setting stands out and gun/bow-slinging can be fun to read. I’m not sure it’ll stay with me as long as other post-apocalyptic novels have, but reading it wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon.