Audiobook review: Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

I had no idea what to expect from this novel, but wow… I’m so glad I listened to it.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape, but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska.

Inti is not the woman she once was, either, changed by the harm she’s witnessed—inflicted by humans on both the wild and each other. Yet as the wolves surprise everyone by thriving, Inti begins to let her guard down, even opening herself up to the possibility of love. But when a farmer is found dead, Inti knows where the town will lay blame. Unable to accept her wolves could be responsible, Inti makes a reckless decision to protect them. But if the wolves didn’t make the kill, then who did? And what will Inti do when the man she is falling for seems to be the prime suspect?

My thoughts

I seem to be one of the few people who haven’t yet read McConaghy’s Migrations—this was my first experience with her writing, which was an absolute treat. Lush descriptions of the Scottish highlands ecosystem and wildlife, strong character development and a fascinating mix of literary fiction and mystery, this audiobook had me enthralled from start to finish. There is just so much going on.

Inti is a complicated main character… she’s brilliant but makes some dumb choices, she has a somewhat disturbingly close relationship and fraught history with her twin sister, and she is passionate about her wolves over just about everything else. I rooted for Inti so hard, in spite of it because of her imperfections. The story is brimming with tension: the clashes between the re-introduced wolves and the locals, the scientists and the locals, Inti and Aggie’s vulnerability after their history of violence at the hands of men, and so much more.

Part murder mystery, part environmental activism, part literary survivor story, this book is an atmospheric, passionate and emotional experience that kept me guessing. While there are a couple elements of the story that require a reader to suspend disbelief, I happily did so and enjoyed this story completely.

The book does need all the trigger warnings, though: it’s violent, deals with animal and human death, sexual violence, emotional abuse, and more. I personally thought these issues were handled well in Once There Were Wolves, but if these things are big no’s for you, avoid this book.

The audiobook narration by Saskia Maarleveld is also excellent. Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for my copy of this extremely well-done audiobook in exchange for my honest review.


Now, I am most definitely going to read Migrations, just as soon as I can.

Review: Slewfoot by Brom

Think of me what you will, but this delightful horror novel satisfied that little part of me that always sort of wished the women persecuted as witches had actually had some dark power they could summon to punish the people who arrested, abused, and murdered them. 😈

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

A spirited young Englishwoman, Abitha, arrives at a Puritan colony betrothed to a stranger – only to become quickly widowed when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances. All alone in this pious and patriarchal society, Abitha fights for what little freedom she can grasp onto, while trying to stay true to herself and her past.

Enter Slewfoot, a powerful spirit of antiquity newly woken… and trying to find his own role in the world. Healer or destroyer? Protector or predator? But as the shadows walk and villagers start dying, a new rumor is whispered: Witch.

Both Abitha and Slewfoot must swiftly decide who they are, and what they must do to survive in a world intent on hanging any who meddle in the dark arts.

My thoughts

I had only read one book by Brom before this one, and while I did enjoy the darkly festive Krampus, I wasn’t exactly blown away by it. I really thought the writing for Slewfoot much more polished, but still packing that gory punch I was looking for from this author. Brom does a nice job developing both of the main characters throughout the story, and I’m impressed with how well he wrote the mind of the female character, Abitha. Slewfoot himself (named Samson by Abitha) is a maybe-devil having an identity crisis, and I really enjoyed reading along as he discovered himself and his purpose again.

Throughout the book, Abitha matures from a girl sold into a life that she never wanted to her own woman. Despite the odds, she has a good relationship with her husband, Edward, though she is widowed and left alone in this harsh time and place to be a woman. Edward’s brother, Wallace, is pure villain: a selfish, self-righteous, clod of a man who develops a nasty vendetta against his brother’s widow. Samson is lost and being manipulated from a couple of directions, but his good soul connects with Abitha’s and they begin to create their own magic.

The most riveting part of the book is also the most painful to read: the impromptu witch trial the Puritans have for Abitha, which also sucks in her friend Sarah. While Abitha comes from a line of cunning women and experiences magic with Samson, Sarah is a god-fearing Puritan woman, innocent of anything remotely resembling witchery, but quite guilty of having been nice to Abitha. Brom does a fantastic job of using just these two women and some trumped-up charges based on hatred and selfishness of one man to show how an entire community got wrapped up in persecution and paranoia. The author does not shy away from the torture and humiliation that Abitha and Sarah endure: it’s brutal, terrifying, and sickening. Unlike the real people who were brutalized as witches throughout history, though, Abitha ultimately gets a choice, thanks to her friendship with Samson, to fight back:

Abitha laughed. “You think me worried about my soul?” She laughed again, loud and fierce, locking blazing eyes on Samson. “I’ve no soul left,” she growled. “They’ve crucified my fucking soul!”

I’m not the least bit ashamed to have enjoyed the hell out of her choice and what happened after.

Having said that, I recognize that this book is not for everyone. While it’s full of magic and wonder, folklore and nature, with feminist and eco-minded rhetoric, this book is horror. It’s bloody and gory, with death and lots of unhappy endings for various characters, and if you are the kind of reader that needs trigger warnings, you should probably steer clear of Slewfoot. On the other hand, if you like darkly atmospheric historical fiction/fantasy with a healthy dose of terror, this may be the tale of bewitchery that you’re looking for.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for this honest review.