Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
I quite like werewolves as a type of supernatural creature. I especially like the kind that shift into full wolves, rather than the scary, vaguely-wolflike monsters that come out exclusively during full moons. I definitely like werewolves more than vampires, I may blog about that at a later date.
This book is not that romantic. Despite appearance and marketing the focus isn’t on a relationship but on solving a mystery and tackling danger. However paranormal romance is the bread and butter of teen/young adult publishing at the moment, so I can see where the marketing decision came from.
The plot, after initially giving the reader space to understand the rules of werewolf society, is a good one, going quickly in unexpected directions. Once you realise that it isn’t going to turn into a romance you have a decent intrigue and action story. The heroine’s viewpoint defines the entire thing, and it’s necessarily very teenage in tone, but that’s the target audience so fair enough. Long held secrets are revealed and a change of scenery leads to investigation and danger. The ending is not at all what I’d imagined it would be, and it’s good when a book pleasantly surprises you.
The story is told in first-person point of view by Bronwyn, usually known as Bryn. Bryn is a 15 year old human who has been raised by werewolves ever since she was 4, when she lost her family in a rogue attack. The author has created a separate werewolf society which exists alongside, but hidden from, our own. The idea of the Pack –involving loyalty, hierarchy and psychic bonds- isn’t unusual, but Barnes has made the idea her own. For example female werewolves are very, very rare; most werewolves take human mates, who will most likely die in childbirth as werewolf babies are tough on human bodies. The alpha of a Pack is undisputed leader with a form of psychic control over all members, and punishments for disobedience are brutal.
So far so patriarchal, one might think.
However this world is seen through the eyes of a teenage girl who seems mostly normal and remarkably confident and self-assured. Though Bryn is officially adopted by iron-willed, centuries-old alpha Callum, she is raised by Ali, a young human woman. This allowed Bryn to grow up with human ideas and modern thinking. Though bonded to the Pack, Bryn keeps her end of the psychic link closed tight. She is her own person with her own mind, and she wants to keep it that way. She doesn’t get involved in dominance games or hierarchy, even though these things are the fabric of her world. It’s easy to like Bryn for her determination and ability to remain so independent. Her headstrong stubbornness gets her in to trouble, but it also makes her interesting and means that she is very much her own person. This is something which I think is important in teenage female leads.
Then Chase enters the scene, a lad who survived an attack and has inexplicably become a werewolf himself. I kept expecting that the relationship would become romantic, it never really did. There’s psychic bond which isn’t really explained and the whole thing gets odd quite quickly. The two teens psychically claim each other “but in a non-freaky, non-ownership, we-both-retain-our-independence kind of way”. Chase wants to think of Bryn as his mate, but Bryn is thoroughly freaked out by the idea, and that’s that. There’s hugging, comforting, shared dreams and the useful ability to see into each others minds, but anything sexual is incredibly understated, and certainly isn’t seen that way by Bryn. This is good as it plays with reader expectations, but it does leave one without a convenient word or label for what’s going on. Perhaps that’s the point.
Chase is not a very distinct character. He starts out as a mystery then becomes Bryn’s and though the reader sees through his eyes and into his memories you don’t get much sense of who he was when he was human. The main supporting cast are caring adoptive-mother Ali and Bryn's two best friends. Devon is a strapping but flamboyant teenwolf who likes drama far more than basketball. This makes him a little unusual in werewolf circles, which is probably why he and Bryn (the token human) are friends. Bryn’s other friend Lake is unusual because she’s a female werewolf. She’s uncomplicated and forthright and loves weaponry, a hobby that comes in useful as the action ramps up. Devon and Lake have known Bryn all their lives which is probably why their personalities shine through much stronger than newcomer Chase.
Altogether I thought this book was intriguing. The author has created a male-dominated society with its own rules and customs, but was also able to feasibly create a confident and interesting female lead within that context. As it had been pitched as romantic I was initially confused by the lack of relationship stuff, but once the mystery and investigation elements got going I was sucked into that plotline. The werewolves and supernatural elements are treated as normal, there isn’t much sensawunder but the plot doesn’t need it. In general I think this book would appeal to readers of both genders – but I suspect the way its been marketed would put most boys off.