Rating: 4.4 (out of 10)
Tyrell Johnson’s The Wolves of Winter starts out as a reasonably well-written, if undistinguished, post-apocalyptic tale – a sort of YA-ish version of Cormac Mcarthy’s The Road (the “ish” owing to the fact that the protagonist is a handful of years older than the usual YA heroine). It quickly turns into a reasonably well-written, undistinguished, YA-ish post-apocalyptic tale crossbred with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a development that doesn’t do it any favors. Lynn is a little bit Katniss (hunts with bow and arrow) and a little bit more Bella (attracted to dangerous men, makes bad decisions, needs to be rescued a lot).
After a nuclear war AND a superflu wipe out most of the planet’s human population, Lynn and some of her surviving family and friends band together in the snowy wilderness of the Canadian Yukon. Their harsh if mostly peaceful existence (except for a slimy trapper living nearby) is disrupted when a mysterious, reclusive stranger named Jax wanders through the vicinity, bringing a dangerous governmental agency known as Immunity on his tail. Lynn, of course, falls for super-strong super-fast Jax, whose most marketable skill is murdering people.
The Wolves of Winter is economical and fast-paced, and Johnson has the basic storytelling skills required to write a not embarrassingly bad novel. Johnson can’t really be blamed too much for the unoriginal setting; your options are limited when you plug “nuclear war and disease ravaged wasteland” into the worldbuilding machine – there’s basically a sliding scale between Station Eleven and Mad Max, which Johnson scoots closer to the former. He can, however, be blamed for all the other trimmings. The characters are rather bland to begin with, but the total lack of chemistry between the romantic leads is unforgivable. Their banter is clumpy and insipid, and Johnson contrives a number of obvious and threadbare excuses for slamming them together (e.g. Jax rescues Lynn from being buried in a blizzard, seemingly only so the old “we have to get naked and spoon to save you from freezing to death don’t worry it’s just science” card can be played). Worse still is the cookie cutter villainy of Immunity; every representative of the organization is a sinister, sneering, underhanded creep lacking any shred of human decency, all the better for Jax to slaughter them indiscriminately and with moral impunity. I kept hoping he would at least hunt down the head of their HR department for their questionable application review process (Are you indifferent to the suffering of others? Yes. Are your employer’s goals more important than basic human rights? Of course. You’re hired!).
A novel for only the most forgiving of readers.