Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska.
Inti is not the woman she once was, either, changed by the harm she’s witnessed―inflicted by humans on both the wild and each other. Yet as the wolves surprise everyone by thriving, Inti begins to let her guard down, even opening herself up to the possibility of love. But when a farmer is found dead, Inti knows where the town will lay blame. Unable to accept her wolves could be responsible, Inti makes a reckless decision to protect them. But if the wolves didn’t make the kill, then who did? And what will Inti do when the man she is falling for seems to be the prime suspect?Amazon
This is my SPOILER FREE Book Review for Once There Were Wolves by Charolette McConaghy
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
Oh, boy was this a treat of a book! It was the perfect book to read under a blanket surrounded by holiday lights while sipping tea.
Note: I think the back of the book blurb really does a disservice to the novel. The dead farmer bit comes in quite far into the story and is not the primary plot device. Also, the love story aspect, while important and relevant, is also not the central plot. I am glad I read it, but I very nearly didn’t because the blurb was so lackluster.
Like the forests that are the settings, this novel has a lush quiet feel. It is slow-moving and rich. There is some poetry in descriptions and the tone is lyrical and poetic while telling a story that has a heavy dose of violence, mystery, and danger. There is more than one mystery to solve and more than one wild animal to think about… and the very concept of what is wild vs civilized is handled with superb skill.
Also, there is a lot here about conservation, climate change, and the importance of biodiversity. The book makes its points about important social issues without being annoying or preachy.
I already said it was lyrical, and I stand by that. The chapters are short, the whole book is short actually, but dense and full of profound storytelling. The writing is beautiful. There are lines of profound lessons sprinkled in with poetic descriptions and pregnant pauses in the plot that somehow work to build the story’s tapestry. There are flashbacks and misdirects and cliffhanger chapter endings that hint at storylines that tantalize…. And in the end, everything makes sense and is perfectly welded together.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like the plot, and yet I found myself really drawn into the plight of the wolves, the plight of the town, the plight of the main character, the plight of her sister, the background story of their father, mother, and lovers…. I really cared about what was going to happen and the mysteries were set up and resolved with superb dexterity.
The novel also makes a deliberate story choice of having multiple stories happening in tandem (a few in flashback) parallel to one another which are only tangentially connected, in this case by the main character and her sister. In the hands of a less skilled author, the connective tissue between these multiple plot lines would have been stretched too thin or been too tenuous to hold together. But McConaghy does a wonderful job of bringing her themes of wild vs civilized through all the various plot points and builds connections around the theme of family, community, fear of the unknown, and the question of how far we will go to protect what we hold dear together and her plot points are strengthened by those connections.
There was one plot point that really stretched my ability to suspend belief…. But… well, at that point I was too far invested and decided to simply accept the birth scene as the symbolic interpretation and climatic moment it was intended to be.
I really liked the characters. I loved how everyone was more than just one note. Everyone had the capacity for extreme actions (violence, love) and everyone was far more than what they appeared at first blush.
Our main character also has a condition called mirror-touch synesthesia. (She feels any sensation she sees… so if someone near her stubs their toe, her toe hurts, etc) This is the same disorder that Lauren Olamina from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower suffers with. (That book also dealt with the fall out of climate change, but in a more fantastical dystopian future sort of way… still, it is interesting to note the overlaps.)
Our main character is also justifiably angry and I love how that anger is both plot fuel and character growth fuel without ever feeling phoned in or pandering. She is not perfect however, she makes mistakes and is clearly still dealing with trauma that leads her to act in ways not healthy or for the good of her long-term goals. I totally understand this frustration and found her believable even if she was frustrating at times.
Yes. I was drawn into the mysteries and the story. I liked the conservation aspect and I was compelled by the blessings and curses of the main character’s sensory handicap. A few things were a bit extreme and over the top, but for the most part, I was able to let myself get lost in the forest of this novel’s prose. I liked the ending even if it was very tied up with a bow.
Would I recommend it?
Yes indeed. It was a wonderful book to read in the waning days of the year. Full disclosure, I am not the outdoorsy type, I don’t know a lot about wolves, and I abhor the idea of hiking. Even still, I found much to love in this book and some of the scenes and messages will stay with me. This is definitely a book I will pitch to bookclub next year.
Why THIS Book?
It was a Book of the Month pick and though the description of “literary fiction” and “murder mystery” made me pause, I decided to check it out. I don’t usually like mystery books but in this case, it was less of a murder mystery and more of a complex story about relationships that had a plot point of a mysterious death that drove some of the action. I read it this month because it was one of the thinner books in my TBR pile and due to the holidays, I was a bit pressed for time.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?