The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Howling At The Moon (Review: Raised By Wolves; JL Barnes)

Raised By Wolves
Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Quercus 2010

Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it. That doesn't mean that she's averse to breaking a rule or two. But when her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Chase, a new teen locked in a cage in her guardian's basement, and witnesses him turn into a wolf before her eyes, the horrific memories of her parents' murders return. Bryn becomes obsessed with getting her questions answered, and Chase is the only one who can provide the information she needs. But in her drive to find the truth, will Bryn push too far beyond the constraints of the pack, forcing her to leave behind her friends, her family, and the identity that she's shaped? (blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I've not read many werewolf books. I thought that I had, but realised that the wolves either existed on the periphery (Twilight) or didn't follow the standard werewolf canon (Shiver). Not that I am entirely clear on what the standard werewolf canon actually would be, but Raised By Wolves seems to me to be very, well, wolfie...

Protagonist Bryn is a pretty interesting character. Rescued from a rogue wolf attack at the age of four, she has been living with the large pack of werewolves who saved her ever since. It's fair to say that she is nothing like your usual female protagonist. While she is definitely human, she has been “marked” by Alpha Callum thus allowing him dominance over her and allowing her a psychic bond to the whole pack. However, Bryn has been able to effectively mute the psychic bond and isolate herself from most of pack life. She is, as my granddad would say, one tough cookie. I wasn't at all sure that I liked her at first, but as the story progresses it soon becomes apparent that her stubborn nature and seemingly endless ability to answer back when she really should be keeping her mouth shut are interwoven with a girl suffocating in a male dominated society. The relationship that she has with Callum is particularly interesting. Both her keeper and her father figure, she swings from being hugely irritated to equally fond of the were who saved her life. Callum himself is a fascinating figure and even as the story drew to a close I was entirely unsure of his motivations or his feelings for Bryn.

The peripheral characters are also very well drawn. Devon, Bryn's closed ally in the pack, adds some much needed levity to proceedings and is an interesting conundrum of sometimes extreme campness and equally overwhelming masculinity. Of all the female characters, I found Lake to be the most likeable and also the most effectively written with her brash manners and weapon-love skillfully stripped down to reveal a glimmer of an altogether more thoughtful and vulnerable girl. Chase, as the boy who Bryn finds imprisoned, is probably the most lightly sketched. It was hard to know whether to like or dislike him, but I found their relationship believable and surprisingly subtle. There are no great declarations of love, just a growing need that ties in nicely with the wolf mentality.

And it is this wolf mentality, and the dynamics of pack life, that brings Raised By Wolves to life. I get the distinct impression that the author really did her research when it came to wolves, as this lot certainly have a distinct way of interacting with each other. The male wolves (of which there are considerably more than the females) quest constantly for dominance over each other, over other packs and above all over their females. Once Bryn opens up her psychic bond to the pack, the constant wolfie claims of “mine” are often infuriating – I really started to feel her frustration and anger. This lot definitely slept through the emancipation of women. The only thing that makes these claims of ownership more manageable is that they are often made with a true desire to protect. The pack, while hugely loyal to each other, also operates a strict justice system which rang true to me after watching wolf documentaries on the nature channel. Rather than treating werewolves like men and women who just happen to change into wolves once a month, the author has treated them like men and women who are wolves and who live their lives according to this. It's very well done and very compelling to read.

The plot itself is quite a slow burner, but works very well. The denouement was thrilling and unusual in that I've never come across the mythology introduced before. However, the majority of Raised By Wolves is dedicated to world building and it is really very effective. By the time I reached the last page I could think of myriad ways in which the story could progress yet happy to say that I have absolutely no idea where Jennifer Lynn Barnes will go with Bryn in the next installment (due out next summer). I really didn't think that I would get so wrapped up in a book devoted totally to werewolves but it is absolutely fascinating and I am extremely interested to see what will happen to Bryn, her family and her friends next.

Thanks to UK Book Tours and Quercus for organising this review copy.


I've heard some very nice things about this one, and while werewolves aren't always my cup of tea, it sounds so so interesting! Brilliant review :)
I didn't fully read your review as I'm sort of reading this one at the moment, but wonderfully detailed review!
What an awesome and thoroughly detailed review. I've kind of been sitting on the fence with this one because a number of people have either hated Bryn or were never quite sure what to make of her, but your explanations of why she behaves the way she does, actually does make me want to read this book now.
Also, your review also makes me realise, that besides Shiver and The Twilight Saga, I haven't actually read all that many werewolf stories. Must make a plan to correct this.
Lynn said…
I've had this book for some time but something kept putting me off reading it - I'll have to dust it off.
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