The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson

Eight stars

In his debut novel, Tyrell Johnson storms onto the scene with this curious post-apocalyptic piece that pits a rural family against the Establishment. Lynn is a 23 year-old who has seen much in her life. The Wars turned America into a nuclear war zone and forced her family to flee to Alaska when she was still a child. However, along with the bombs came a debilitating flu that knocked out large portions of the remaining population, one of whom was Lynn’s father, not long after she turned twelve. Living now in the Yukon Territory, the remaining family members subsist off the land, forced to forage and hunt when the ground is covered with ice and snow. They are isolated not only because of the drastic drop in population, but also to steer clear of Immunity, a group dedicated to find and annihilate any remaining flu carriers, or use them as test subjects to inoculate the healthy. When Jax appears on their terrain, Lynn and her uncle, Jeryl, take note. They soon discover that Jax is one of the good people, also fleeing from Immunity, but with a number of secrets of his own. As Lynn and Jax get closer, they learn a little more about one another, including things that could jeopardise their safety. Struggling to remain one step ahead of Immunity, they take a chance that could have dire consequences. All the while, Lynn is forced to come to terms with some half-truths her family has kept from her for all these years, at a time when every day could be her last. Steeped in drama and some violent clashes, Johnson’s piece is sure to get people talking for a long time to come. Perfect for those who like a little struggle and angst in a world decimated by political arm wrestling.

I had heard much about this book before I chose to take the plunge. I am happy that I did so, as Johnson’s piece does not read like a debut whatsoever. His attention to detail and wonderful story development is clear throughout, while he provides a social commentary of where the world is headed in the near future. Perhaps one of the great aspects of this novel is that it keeps a few characters moving throughout, rather than forcing the reader to juggle huge numbers, remembering names and backstories. Lynn and Jax develop throughout the piece at an astounding rate, while also pulling their backstories along to add depth to their characters. Both have suffered much in their young lives, but they refuse to lay down and let the world roll over them. Rather, they build on these issues and create an even stronger foundation for themselves. The rest of those who grace the pages of the book serve their purpose, flavouring the narrative with their unique personalities. While some may look at ‘post-apocalyptic’ and see something a little too out of this world, Johnson keeps things realistic as events develop, allowing the reader to wonder ‘what if’ rather than ‘if only’. The pain felt through each revelation is something that can hit home as a young woman struggles to find her own place in a world that is hanging on merely by a thread. The story reads so easily and the narrative flows off the page, with countless incidents of symbolism that speak directly to the reader. While there will be those who gasp at blood and language peppered throughout, those who can handle it will be glad they took the time to enjoy this wonderful novel.

Kudos, Mr. Johnson, for stunning the literary world with something so palatable. I am pleased to see you dropped the odd Canadian mention throughout this piece and hope fans on both sides of the border (and worldwide) discover all you have to offer.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: