Book Reviews

Review: Wolfsong by TJ Klune

After loving The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door, I was really excited for the rerelease of Wolfsong – but it ultimately fell a bit flat for me.

Book: Wolfsong by TJ Klune

Publication date: 1st September 2022 (originally published 2016)

Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Black Crow PR. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence, injury and murder, including death of a parent/spouse and on-page grieving; child abuse and neglect; age gap relationship; kidnapping and torture.

Ox was twelve when his daddy taught him a very valuable lesson. He said that Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then he left.

Ox was sixteen when he met the boy on the road. The little boy who talked and talked and talked. Ox found out later the little boy hadn’t spoken in almost two years before that day, and that the little boy belonged to a family who had moved into the house at the end of the lane.

Ox was seventeen when he found out the little boy’s secret and it painted the world around him in colors of red and orange and violet, of Alpha and Beta and Omega.

Ox was twenty-three when murder came to town and tore a hole in his head and heart. The boy chased after the monster with revenge in his bloodred eyes, leaving Ox behind to pick up the pieces.

It’s been three years since that fateful day—and the boy is back. Except now he’s a man, and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.

If you, like me, are a fan of TJ Klune’s softer work, like The House in the Cerulean Sea, then brace yourself for something very different with Wolfsong. Right from the first page, it’s clear that we’re not in a whimsical, slightly-insulated-from-reality setting, but in a sad, realistic world where fathers leave and bills stack up. There’s something about it that just feels more grounded, though no less compelling: Ox has a distinctive narrative voice, and while he’s (self-admittedly) not a particularly smart kid, the way he describes things is so simple and pithy that it’s impossible not to be dragged along with him. It’s a fine balance, writing a character of limited intelligence without coming across patronising or caricature-ish, but I think Klune’s nailed it here. However, this is a pretty long book, and the writing style does become a little tedious after several hundred pages of similar phrases, so you may find your tolerance for punchy repetition wanes as you read.

Watching Ox grow from twelve to sixteen across the first sixty or so pages of the book is gripping even though it’s fairly mundane; the mysterious arrival of the Bennett family is the obvious hook of the story, but Ox was already interesting on his own. The blurb makes the book sound like it begins when Ox is 26 and that this is a straighforward paranormal romance, but that’s not right – it starts at the beginning, when he’s 12, and combs through his life in detail as he grows. It’s sort of Twilight meets The Outsiders in tone. A coming-of-age tale where the main character feels like an outcast from society, there’s a strong focus on found family and pack dynamics. I can definitely see why people are loving this as a paranormal queer story!

However, I had a few distinct problems with the execution. Firstly, there are so few women in this book, and they are treated as so unimportant to the plot, so emotional and weak compared to the men, that I already had my hackles up by the time the fridging started. This is a book concerned with teenage boys and emotionally immature men, and for me as a female reader, that was just… quite boring. Secondly, I personally really don’t like the ‘fated mates’ trope, and that is very much what this book is – it’s obvious to everyone apart from Ox, including the reader, that Joe has claimed him as his mate while they’re still teenagers. I don’t generally like the trope because I find it very toxic (what chance does someone have to try other partners, to express that they don’t like behaviour, to leave if they’re magically yours and not their own?) and this is a particularly egregious example of that, which strips a lot of agency from Ox. However, I think the trope can be done well if the relationship is still shown to be strong and respectful, and I can understand why the characters like each other on top of their magical bond – which brings me to my third problem.

This is the story of Ox falling in love with Joe and building a community of people, both human and wolf, around him. That would be great if I liked a single character apart from Ox. I felt most of the adults manipulated him and most of the kids were annoying or just superfluous, and many characters were both annoying and manipulative. The worst example by far was Joe. It seems like the book really, really thinks you should find Joe adorable as a kid and an adult, that you should think he’s funny, charming, sweet, and in need of protection. He’s traumatised, sure, which explains some of his behaviour, but I just really, really didn’t like him! He’s like a manic pixie dream boy. I didn’t think he and Ox had any chemistry in either their friendship or their love, which made it really hard to root for them.

Overall, this was a shoot and a miss for me. I’m intrigued by the differences in Klune’s body of work – I recently DNFed his The Lightning-Struck Heart, which suffered from a similar lack of women and some characters and humour I truly didn’t click with, so I’ve read two books of his that I’ve loved and two that I’ve really disliked. I’ll certainly keep checking his work out, and I do recommend this if you’re a fan of fated mates, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back to Green Creek. Two out of five cats.

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