What happens when you combine Polish folklore with a story about a monster hunter, a princess who may or may not be a monster herself, and an entire forest filled with monsters? You get Don’t Call the Wolf by Aleksandra Ross. I call it awesome.
Ms. Ross’s world is rich and vibrant with fabulous characters and even better monsters. Lukasz is your typical moody monster hunter, but he has a good reason to be moody given that he is the last of his line and has to deal with the emotional fallout of losing his nine brothers. Ren is such a complex character, innocent but fierce, and tormented by her past as well as her ideas of what constitutes a monster. Together, they make fabulous foils, learning hard truths from one another that gives them great depths of character and makes them more human in the process.
All of Don’t Call the Wolf is an exercise in exploring certain ideas. For example, what makes something evil versus good? Ms. Ross also explores innocence versus experience, definitions of home and family, and betrayal versus forgiveness. Combine that into a novel set into a forest where pretty much every step sees our cast of characters encounter yet another deadly myth, and it makes for some pretty compelling reading.
Don’t Call the Wolf is a dark story, bloody and sometimes a bit more philosophical than one would expect in a young adult novel. As Ms. Ross heavily utilizes her Polish heritage throughout the story, such foreboding matter makes sense, as does the sense of hope that suffuses the story. After all, when your culture spends centuries being conquered by others, sometimes all you have is hope to get you through the terrible times.