I was happy to get an advance copy of Tyrell Johnson’s THE WOLVES OF WINTER (Scribner, January 2018) through NetGalley. It’s part apocalyptic tale, part coming of age story, and I really enjoyed it. Apocalyptic fiction has taken on a bit more of a literary bent lately as both a natural part of its evolution and to give it more mass appeal, and Johnson’s novel is one of the good ones.
The story begins with Lynn, a 24-year-old woman who lives with her family in the Yukon wilderness. The world has ended after a series of global wars and later flu pandemic, and while living up north is rough, its isolation and food supply of fish and game make it one of the best places to be. For Lynn, who came here when she was a child, it’s now home. Lynn was the best part of this first-person narrative novel. Johnson makes her an appealing flesh-and-blood character with a terrific voice and worldview that is part naive, part pure pragmatism. While she’s tough enough to survive and do what needs doing in the story, she’s no superhero.
In the first part of the story, we’re introduced to Lynn, her family, and their lifestyle, which I found thoroughly engaging and realistic. The dialogue is terrific. When a mysterious stranger disrupts their isolation, he is gradually welcomed but warns of other strangers coming who pose a threat. The stranger, it seems, is important, and so is Lynn. I found myself rooting for our heroes to win, pages zipping past.
The wars and the flu all come across as somewhat generic, though the end of the world’s cause is far less important than how people survive it. As the conflict deepens, all of our protagonists are revealed to be extremely important in what came before and what may come after, which robbed the story of some of its grounded and local feel. For me, it kind of dragged close to the end, and the protagonists were surprisingly successful given what they were up against.
Despite this, I really liked the read. Johnson’s world building is perfect, the set up is excellent, the characters are great and worth rooting for, and the action, conflict, and adversity are all exciting and drive the story forward in a realistic way. It’s a great apocalyptic novel that for fans of the genre will feel familiar but built as a great literary story told by a likeable character with a great voice.