Greetings and welcome to my first book review! While I’ve never written a book review I’ve read many, and likewise read many books. So maybe I’m a natural, right? (It’s okay, you don’t have to answer that, I can feel your encouragement from here.) So here goes: Once There Were Wolves is a book. It’s a good book. I think you should read this book, if you want. If not that’s okay too, I’ll likely never know. So…thank you for your time.
Only joking, don’t go! Here are truly some things to know about Once There Were Wolves:
What happens to a climate without wolves? What happens when the wolves return? Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy explores these questions through a fictionalized solution to Scotland’s very real lack of wolves; the last wolf in Scotland was killed in 1680, and there are no wild wolves remaining. Enter main character Inti Flynn and her fourteen gray wolves. Inti is equal parts loyal and loner, sharing a deep connection and striking similarity to her wolves. A biologist, Inti is leading a team tasked with reintroducing wolves to the Scotland Highlands in hopes of revitalizing the environment. Without wolves Scotland Highlands’ deer population lingers in areas long enough to reduce the growth of tree shoots, and thus forests. Rewilding these fourteen wolves will help move the deer and subsequently allow regrowth of natural forests. Inti seems perfect for this endeavor as she is passionate about both the wolves and the environment their presence aims to fortify.
However, the wolves and caring for nature aren’t Inti’s only motivations for moving to Scotland: Inti’s twin sister Aggie is coming too. Inti hopes moving Aggie away from their previous home of Alaska will be good for her twin, who is mentally and physically dependent upon Inti. Through a series of flashbacks between present day, Inti’s childhood, and young adulthood prior to moving to Scotland it’s clear Aggie wasn’t always this way. The balance between past and present throughout the novel reveals the reasoning behind Aggie’s dependency and how it intertwines with Inti’s motivations in Scotland.
Raised by her mother in Australia and her father in British Columbia, Inti was taught to fear human nature by her detective mother and to live among nature by her off-the-grid father. This upbringing is a foundation for Inti’s self-isolating nature, as is Inti’s diagnoses of mirror-touch synesthesia, a rare condition in which those diagnosed feel similar tactile sensations as others. For Inti this happens anytime she sees someone feel something, for example receiving a high-five. Inti is also able to feel things her wolves feel, like salivation when she presents them with food. Inti’s mirror-touch synesthesia is a contributing factor to her relationship with and protectiveness of her wolves, and her distrust of humans.
As one might imagine, Inti’s task of rewilding her wolves is met with adversity from locals, particularly farmers. Inti is not faced with an easy task; in addition to rewilding the wolves she is juggling angry farmers who fear the affect the wolves presence will have on their livestock, her sisters concerning condition, her own self-doubt, her struggles with mirror-touch synesthesia, and her budding feelings for the local sheriff. As if that isn’t enough a farmer is found dead (can’t a girl catch a break). In denial that her wolves could be responsible, Inti starts down a path to clear their name by uncovering the true killer, discovering things she never knew about herself along the way. What results is a rollercoaster conclusion to an already tense story.
There is a lot going on in this book, so staying interested was not a problem for me. At times there was too much going on for my taste, but I think that is somewhat the point: life can be chaotic, just as nature can be. McConaghy’s parallel between human nature and animal nature is wonderfully (if not pointedly) done throughout the novel. I found Inti to be an interesting character, both captivating and frustrating in her steadfastness of taking on everything by herself. Most of the time Inti relates more to her wolves than the humans surrounding her, and the simultaneous danger and beauty in the relationship between nature and humans is both poignant and humbling to read.
This is not McConaghy’s first novel focused upon human impact on the natural environment. McConaghy has also penned Migrations, which likewise follows a female protagonist in a journey of self-discovery through nature. If strong female leads and the importance of the natural world around us are of interest to you McConaghy is an author to explore.
Note: If you are considering reading Once There Were Wolves I suggest reviewing the content warnings before embarking on your journey with Inti and her wolves.
Review written by: Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator