Station Eleven meets The Hunger Games in this ruthless, captivating story of a young woman’s survival in the frozen wilderness of the Yukon after the rest of the world has collapsed.
As the old world dies, we all must choose to become predators. Or become prey.
The old world has been ravaged by war and disease, and as far as Lynn McBride is concerned, her family could be the last one left on earth. For seven years, the McBrides have eked out a meagre existence in the still, white wilderness of the Yukon. But this is not living. This is survival on the brink.
Into this fragile community walk new threats, including the enigmatic fugitive, Jax, who holds secrets about the past and, possibly, keys to a better future. And then there’s Immunity, the pre‑war organization that was supposed to save humankind from the flu. They’re still out there, enforcing order and conducting experiments—but is their work for the good of humankind or is something much more sinister at play? In the face of almost certain extinction, Lynn and her family must learn to hunt as a pack or die alone in the cold.
Breakout debut novelist Tyrell Johnson weaves a captivating tale of humanity stretched far beyond its breaking point, of family and the bonds of love forged when everything else is lost. Reminiscent of Station Eleven and The Hunger Games, this is a classic and enthralling post‑apocalyptic adventure and a celebration of the human spirit.
There’s something about a survival story that immediately puts you on edge. Not only do you hold the same tension as the protagonist – am I safe? what will I find to eat? – but you as the reader are in the dark about what happened to the world. Was it a nuclear event? A virus? An alien calamity? That knife edge of suspense is present from the first page of The Wolves of Winter as we meet Gwendolynn – Lynn – our protagonist and our guide to this new world. We are immediately immersed into her brutal reality of hunting and distrust (truly, Conrad may not have many pages but he’s a disgusting human being). Lynn lives with her mother and brother, her uncle Jeryl and family friend Ramsey – They live a cold and barren existence in the Yukon, distrustful of strangers and content to be on their own – mostly – until the day a young man and a dog show up. During those first few pages, you experience the isolation and vastness of Lynn’s world, and you cannot let go of the sense that she’s waiting for something.
The world has experienced a flu epidemic, initially in Asia, but eventually everywhere that has wiped out a significant portion of the population. As expected, society has broken down, and humankind has devolved into the most basic of necessities. Families have fled anywhere they can in order to remain secure, and the McBrides have moved to the Yukon. Despite this, there are still members of a secret group – the DCIA, or “Immunity” – who show up with promises of a vaccine, but you learn very quickly that there are very few people to trust within this new world. What is most frightening about this book is not the on-page presence of ‘bad guys’ or the thoughts of world-wide illnesses, but rather the potential within everything Johnson writes. There’s almost a surreal, movie-like quality to his writing, as if you could picture each of the scenes in your mind, and that’s because each scene is only a step or two away from our own reality. The increase in super bugs could very well lead to a worldwide H1N1 style epidemic. The actions of an insane world leader (ahem… ) could push us to the brink of war. Climate change might lead Mother Nature to remove all our choices for us. I found myself considering just who might survive in my own family (with several nieces who are capable outdoors-women who are partnered with equally capable outdoorsy individuals, I know who’s wagon train I’m joining!), and where we might move to up north.
I found that there were a lot of levels to this book, and while the initial comparisons are to The Hunger Games and Station Eleven, I’d switch in McCarthy’s The Road for Collins’ thriller. There is a bleakness to Lynn in the way she almost clinically considers her romantic options even as she capably hunts for survival. Through her flashbacks to her memories of her father, and her recollections of the past, the story of how the world dissolved is revealed, as well as why she remains so contained within herself. Lynn has been alone for most of her mature life, and this has led to intense introspection, often poetic in its conclusions. I really enjoyed how methodical she became under fire, constantly reminding herself of what she needed to do to survive, and how she wasn’t afraid to face the unknown in the search for hope.
The revelations about Jax and eventually Lynn’s own physical capabilities come about slowly, but they are somehow not a surprise. We know from the beginning that these are two unique individuals, and that the world will change because of them. I’m intrigued to find out what might happen with them – either in a sequel or a short novella – because they are fascinating and complex characters. Johnson is a gifted writer, and I cannot wait to see what he gives us next.
The Wolves of Winter is available via Simon & Schuster Canada. A copy was provided for this blog tour, but does not affect my review. It may be purchased from your favourite online, independent or big name bookseller. ISBN: 9781501155734, 320 pages.