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The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

BOTTOM LINE: Okay but I wanted more

Genre: Science Fiction; Dystopian Fiction
Publication Date: 2 January 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

Simultaneously a heartbreakingly sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she is meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules, The Wolves of Winter is enveloping, propulsive, and poignant.”

My Thoughts: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson has a relatively unique approach to the dystopian fiction genre that is not only a welcome surprise but sets it apart from previous novels in the genre. With its stark setting, the surprise approach is not immediately obvious as the story calls to mind various post-apocalyptic stories in which the weather patterns have been permanently altered by global nuclear war.  However, once you move past the familiar setting, you realize that the McBride family are not only people who are trying to survive the new climate and lack of civilization but that they lived in the world before it went to hell.

This may not seem like a big deal but in actuality it is a huge one. For, not only do we get the chance to see people living and surviving in new and hostile environs, we see how they have been able to adapt to such changes. This is a first generation story, involving people who remember the Internet and electricity and the modern-day, first-world conveniences we take for granted. While the psychology of such adaptation is not a focal point of the story, Mr. Johnson does provide a fascinating glimpse into the added toll it takes on a person when she can still remember how things used to be through direct memory and not through stories passed down over the years.

There is another difference that sets The Wolves of Winter apart from similar stories. There are no children in this post-apocalyptic world. Lynn is twenty-seven, and even the youngest in her group of survivors is a teenager. Mr. Johnson explains some of this through the disease that wiped out who the war did not, but his choice to not include children is telling in its realism. The young and the old are always the first to suffer in times of hardship, and living through a nuclear winter in the Yukon Territory certainly counts as a hardship. It is simply not a time when children could survive or when families could spend time tending to the weak.

These two deviations from the norm aside, The Wolves of Winter struggles to rise above other dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories. Lynn might be twenty-seven, an expert shot with a bow, and an accomplished hunter and tracker, but she is a teenager in attitude. As with the lack of children, Mr. Johnson explains away her behavior by allowing her to recognize that she acts that way because her family continues to treat her as a child/teenager. Still, the novel very much has a coming-of-age feel to it that is at odds with the actual age and competence of the main character.

The arrival of Jax adds a bit of a twist to the story but that twist is in no way a game-changer. Jax is the means by which Lynn finally flexes her wings and test her boundaries. He brings the action and introduces the enemy, thereby playing the role of the spark that ignites the rest of the novel. He remains fairly one-dimensional in his role throughout, and his behaviors are predictable. His inclusion in the story once the enemy is established provides nothing other than a convenient battle-hardened warrior and potential romantic interest. In other words, he is a cliche.

I wanted to love The Wolves of Winter but could not overcome my disquiet at Lynn’s immature attitude or the predictable nature of the plot. I wanted more of that pre- and post-apocalyptic mindset clash and the psychological toll such memories would have on survivors who now have to not only hunt for their own food but dress, clean, and prepare it, gather the wood and other fuel needed to cook it, and gather the water needed to clean up after such an endeavor. The disease aspect of the story was a distraction, in my opinion. Even though it is laid out as the primary story, so much of Lynn’s thoughts and actions reflect on the world outside her little area of Canada that to allow readers to see more of this outside world and understand the struggles survivors are having in adapting to this new world would better the story more than any clash with shady government officials. While I enjoy a good action/adventure novel with a conspiracy angle, The Wolves of Winter is one novel where I wanted less action and conspiracy and more psychology.

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