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The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

Published by Scribner on January 2, 2018

The Wolves of Winter is best approached as a young adult novel. It doesn’t appear to be marketed that way, but it has all the YA characteristics: a young adult protagonist at odds with an older adult world; the protagonist’s discovery that she has greater resilience/strength/skills than she imagined; a broadening of that character’s life experiences as the novel progresses; her blossoming but chaste love for a good-hearted bad boy; her clashes with adult/parental authority; her reassurance of parental love; her confrontation of easily-resolved moral issues; and an undemanding plot that moves quickly and covers a relatively short time span. That description isn’t meant to disparage YA fiction (some of it is quite good), but readers should know what to expect when they pick up a book.

The Wolves of Winter posits a nuclear war, started (credibly enough) by the America First crowd. When the radioactive dust settles, America is no longer first, because nobody comes in first in a holocaust. America’s real downfall, however, was launching a biological attack on China (or at least that’s what the characters theorize), which backfired when travelers defied the Asian travel ban and carried the virus back to the United States.

The protagonist in this post-apocalyptic novel is Gwendolynn McBride, a 23-year-old who prefers Lynn. She isn’t big enough to avoid being bullied by the survivalist libertarians who seem to welcome post-apocalyptic living because the strong can bully the weak when no society exists to enforce civilized rules. But Lynn’s family is supportive; they deal with problems as they arise.

One potential problem is a wanderer named Jax. He joins the family while recovering from an injury. Lynn is fascinated by him (to her family’s consternation), but Jax’s history might make him a man to be avoided. Jax is being pursued by Immunity and his mere presence brings trouble to Lynn’s family.

Immunity is the shortened version of a longer organizational name given to a mysterious group that purports to be combatting the virus by searching for a way to create (you guessed it) immunity. Lynn’s mother seems to know something about Immunity but she won’t talk about it. Whether Immunity is a force for good or evil is one of the questions that the reader must ponder for much of the novel. Of course, all the family secrets are revealed near the novel’s end.

Another mystery for much of the novel is whether Jax is a good guy or a bad guy. He seems to have enhanced abilities (speed and strength among them) that make him a dangerous fellow, but can he be trusted? Well, this is YA fiction so you can probably guess the answer.

Lynn is the kind of independent, defiant young woman who has become a standard fixture of YA post-apocalyptic fiction. Naturally, she is attracted to Jax, because romance between a young, tough survivor like Lynn and a mysterious stranger like Jax is part of the formula for this kind of book. In fact, much of the book is formulaic. The story holds few surprises and the various threats Lynn faces are easily overcome. Since the story creates no fear that Lynn is ever in serious danger, it also creates little suspense. The ending is improbably happy, but that’s part of the formula. The Wolves of Winter is well-crafted, and if you like the formula, you’ll probably like the book. If you’re tired of the formula or would like to see it wielded with a new twist, you should probably give the novel a pass.


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