Author: Tyrell Johnson
Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopia
*Thank you to the publishers, author and NetGalley for sending me an advance copy of the book*
‘Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive.
Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As memories of her old life haunt her, she has been forced to forge ahead in the snow-covered Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap to survive.
But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who sets in motion a chain of events that will force Lynn to fulfil a destiny she never imagined’
– The Wolves of Winter
The Wolves of Winter is the first book by Tyrell Johnson. It is built on an interesting (and somewhat increasingly relevant) premise: the world has been almost completely destroyed in a nuclear war, and the population decimated by a killer flu. Lynn and her family managed to escape from the town they lived in, where most of the population had been killed by the virus. They now live in the wilds of the Yukon, hunting and growing what they can to survive.
The first thing I noticed about this book was its slow pacing. The book has a lot of backstory, plus a huge amount of no-story. For the vast majority of the book, practically nothing happens: there was even a whole chapter dedicated to Lynn killing a deer, then making a fire. This made it incredibly difficult for me to gain momentum when reading. Very little actually occurs until the last few chapters, then suddenly everything does. While reading The Wolves of Winter, I had the strong feeling that the book should have been the first few chapters of its potential sequel, rather than a standalone: it felt like the build up to a much more happening story.
The Wolves of Winter should have definitely come with a trigger warning. Although gore and animal killing was pretty much a given, I was completely unprepared for the serious sexual assault that happened within the first few pages. This could be extremely problematic for some people, and needed to be more clearly signposted, especially because the knowledge of its happening does not take anything away from the book.
The characters in the book are probably the one thing that saves it: Lynn is a strong, interesting protagonist. She is the balance of sassy that authors usually get very, very wrong, creating sullen, rude characters that no one feels empathy for. My favourite character was Jeryl, Lynn’s uncle. He is a complex, loving person, filling the place of Lynn’s father and holding a fierce protectiveness over his best friend’s son. Further, Johnson easily fills his book with incredibly loatheable villains, and creates an interesting storyline where they’re involved.
The only criticisms I have against these characters is that it is extremely difficult to feel a bond with a character when they’re not doing anything. I liked Lynn, but she needed more of a storyline to truly shine.
However, the story is also littered with somewhat irrelevant and badly developed characters. Try as I might, I couldn’t come to like Jax, who was so withdrawn, he had almost no dialogue. Further, as in most YA dystopian novels, Lynn’s mother is fairly distant, hard-nosed, and irrelevant. I think it’s time for another trope.
The whole book was filled with awkward and forced sexual tension. There was really no need for it to be in the book, except for the fact that Johnson really wanted to drive home the fact that Lynn hasn’t seen a novel human boy for 7 years. In wanders Jax, and bam, time to start making little references about his attractiveness, physique, and ~closeness~. I felt no discernible chemistry between the two, and the whole manner in which it’s written just feels incredibly uncomfortable.
Although the romance felt forced and unnecessary, Johnson is good at making the reader feel real emotion within other relationships. With a few exceptions, I very rarely get as stirred by a book as I did with The Wolves of Winter. I felt true sadness, tension, and happiness alongside Lynn. It’s probably the huge amount of backstory that did it, but I felt very connected to the pain Lynn felt at the loss of her father. That relationship between father and daughter was the best written in the book.
The Wolves of Winter is a good starter for a series, and I can see that the story will be a good one when all the books are finished, but there just wasn’t enough happening for me. The ending was somewhat predictable, and I simply couldn’t shake the feeling that I had just finished a book containing 400 pages of very little substance.