Review: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

DSCF1109Growing up, I was an extremely diverse reader. I was always attempting (and probably failing) to read the great Classics of literature, whilst simultaneously reading children’s books by the likes of Enid Blyton. As such, I was constantly challenge myself in my reading habits, and did not necessarily progress as others would. Yet the reading habits of my early teenage years probably reflected my age a lot more than any other period. I was a huge lover of YA, particularly fantasy and paranormal fiction, and whilst I was still reading vicariously across other genres, these few years did see a large proportion of reading time devoted to YA. I do feel that I have long outgrown YA fiction (despite vowing in the wise words of Peter Pan to never grow up), but I still do enjoy a YA book if it is well written and avoids the horrible clichés that are often so off-putting for many older readers.

Raised by Wolves, a trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, was a series which I first read during the said paranormal YA phase, probably around the age of 15. I remember enjoying it, but for some reason never got around to actually finishing the series. Book one had, however, remained on my shelves. I am currently in the process of reading some of the YA I own in a bid to weed out the books which I no longer feel the need to keep on my shelves. Therefore, I decided to pick up Barnes’s novel to decide whether it should still belong with me.

This book follows Bronwyn Alessia St. Vincent Clare, more commonly known as Bryn. At the young age of four, Bryn’s parents were brutally murdered by a rabid werewolf (this is not a spoiler, the blurb clearly states this!), and Bryn was taken in by Callum, alpha of the Stone River wolf pack. Callum marked Bryn as his own, initiating her into the pack, and giving her a psychic bond of sorts, whilst still retaining her humanity. Growing up within a protective wolf pack means that Bryn’s whole life has been spent training to fight and defend herself should the situation deem it necessary . Yet at the age of 15, Bryn suddenly finds herself on the outside of an important secret, forced by pack rule to obey orders and keep safely out of the way of the mysterious new threat. The plot really starts to hit its stride with the discovery of Chase, a teenager who has recently been turned into a Were by a sadistic and rabid werewolf, such as Bryn herself faced on the night her parents were murdered. Desperate for answers, Bryn must disobey the laws of her pack in a fight for the truth, whatever that may mean.

One of the things I was immediately reminded of in my re-read of this book was the very accomplished nature of the first chapter, where multiple things are immediately established. We are given Bryn’s voice and personality, an introduction to the main people within her life (Callum, Ali), a brief discussion of her violent history (with the addition of a hint of mystery), the dynamics of the pack hierarchy, and ultimately Bryn’s place as a human in a wolf pack where all members are must obey the Alpha. All of this in done in an efficient, progressive way, without any stagnant paragraphs. In summary, a very successful opening chapter.

Our main protagonist, Bryn, is a well thought out female teenager. Barnes has managed to capture that snarky, sarcastic teenage voice that so many of us will recognise (yes we were all moody teenagers once!). I love a well written, strong female character, and Bryn was a decent attempt at this who I quickly found myself rooting for. It was also refreshing that she had retained her humanity, and was not in fact a werewolf herself, giving a more relatable character to an admittedly fantastical story. Bryn is not an amazing, superhuman woman, capable of amazing strength, courage and dignity. She is human, she is flawed, and she is more than capable of getting her human butt kicked by the werewolves she lives among. As she herself states, ‘pretty much everyone I knew was stronger, faster and less disturbed by the idea of throwing a girl over his shoulder and hauling her to a given destination than anyone had a right to be’ (p. 15).

Bryn might be a strong female protagonist, but female werewolves are extremely rare, and Bryn’s interactions are largely male based. Having said that, there is a female werewolf, Lake, who is part of the pack, although her and her father do not live with the rest of the group; they are peripherals. I adored Lake. She is smart, funny, witty, and more than capable of defending herself in a werewolf world where female wolves are cherished above all else. Lake very clearly does not need, or seem to desire, a man in her life (father excluded), and is a great feminist character for young teenage girls (wolf tendencies and love of killer weapons aside).  The idea that Lake is seen as a valuable commodity by other male werewolves, a someone to possess and protect, was a very interesting idea, and a complete contrast to her strong willed nature. I ended this book really hoping that we are given much more of Lake within the next installment!

Anyone one who knows anything about canines or wolves will know that they are ruled by pack mentality, and this is transferred completely into the Stone River pack. A slight issue I did find was that the words and phrases used to describe the wolves, their bond, their strength, their possessiveness, their animalistic nature, can begin to get very repetitive. Understandably, there are only so many ways to describe these kinds of things, and the repetition does enforce the single mindedness nature of the pack. Yet despite being aware of this, I still found myself getting mildly annoyed at the continual use of certain words.

YA is infamous for cliché, cheesy romances, and I will be the first to admit I can no longer subscribe to these overused tropes. I was therefore extremely thankful that Bryn’s first encounter with the newly turned werewolf, Chase, was not a stereotypical ‘love at first sight’, he is ‘so hot’ moment. She does not immediately fall head over heels, and there is not a highly wrought sexual tension between the two. Instead, Chase is unable to keep his human form, and actually tried to eat, yes eat, Bryn. You can see from a mile off that the two are going to become involved romantically, but Barnes’s does manage to avoid some of the more annoying YA tropes. Rather than become obsessed by his physical appearance, which in fact Bryn does not seem to first notice, she is instead consumed by the need to known Chase’s story. He is perhaps the only person to ever have been in a situation similar to herself, and she is initially driven not by lust, but by her deep need to remember and understand her own past.

As I have already said, the pair do of course end up romantically involved, although there is little to no physical contact and soppy moments. I did roll my eyes slightly at the easy way in which the two became bonded and devoted to each other, and found it all slightly distracting and unrealistic. The author does however separate the two characters multiple times, significantly when Bryn visits Lake a far distance off, and these breaks did provide relief from the relationship becoming too stereotypical.

YA is always going to struggle to be a masterful piece of literature; in it’s very nature it is targeted at a much different audience. Having said that, I do feel that this book is well written, and gives an enjoyable plot and character focused book. My pet hate is when characters, teenage ones specifically, are written in a stilted, unnatural way. I did not find that in this book, as the voices were written in an organic and natural way. Of course, this books is a paranormal fantasy, and must be taken with a pinch of salt – it is a book about werewolves after all! If you like fantasy and YA and enjoy well written stories, I would definitely recommend this to you!

Have any of you read this book or its sequels? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts!

Publisher: Quercus Fiction

Rating: 3*/5*

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