“This is the thing, isn’t it? This is the fear they live with now. The children in us long for monsters to take forms we understand. They want to fear the wolves because they don’t want to fear each other.”
Let me start by saying that Once There Were Wolves is at the top of my list for favorite reads of 2021, but this novel might not be for everyone. Charlotte McConaghy makes a sincere and earnest attempt at delivering important environmental messages through characters burdened with intense trauma and passion. This is not your average who-done-it thriller; Once There Were Wolves is an eco-thriller about rewilding the Highlands, and the environmentalist side of the plot takes up a lot of space in the story. If that sounds like something that would bore or annoy you, this might not be the book for you.
Now, back to why I loved this novel.
Inti Flynn is an Australian biologist leading a team of professionals tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Scottish Highlands. Inti hopes that through this rewilding attempt, she will heal not only the dying landscape but also her twin sister, Aggie. Once wild and spirited, Aggie is now mute and scarcely present in reality. Recent horrifying events involving Aggie’s violent husband have unmade her, reducing her to Inti’s “shadow sister.”
Inti hasn’t escaped these events unchanged. Born with a neurological condition called mirror-touch synesthesia, her brain recreates the sensory experiences of any living creature. If she sees it, she feels it. This makes her extremely sensitive and empathetic. Transformed by the harm she’s witnessed to both her sister and the wild, Inti has become untrusting, closed off, and cold.
The Scottish Highlands are mostly occupied by sheep farmers; so as you can imagine, the locals are not entirely supportive of the reintroduction of wolves onto their land. One of the most vocal critics of Inti’s wolf project is Stuart Burns, a sheep farmer widely known to be beating his wife. When Inti discovers Stuart’s body with his throat ripped out, she knows her wolves will be wrongly blamed for his death. In order to protect them, she hastily buries the corpse and begins to investigate possible human suspects. At the top of this list is her hunky neighbor, and police chief, Duncan MacTavish.
While the mystery of Stuart’s disappearance unfolds, characters’ pasts are hinted at and slowly revealed.
We begin to see possible motivations in every player and the true murderer is only exposed once we’ve had a chance to consider all possibilities.
Once There Were Wolves invites us to reevaluate the role that trust plays in our lives. Survival in a dangerous world depends on our ability to accept help from unlikely places and people. This thoughtful and enjoyable novel succeeds at creating a world where one must balance humanity and nature. Charlotte McConaghy is a spectacular writer and I can’t wait to read more from her.
Grab a warm blanket, make yourself a hot drink, and enjoy reading while curled up on the couch. Or, if you’d prefer something a bit more social, Cullen’s Pub makes a killer hot buttered rum during the cold season!
Hot Buttered Rum
⅔ cup brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
For Each Cocktail
⅔ cup hot water
2 tbsp batter, plus more to taste
2 ounces dark rum
Sweetened whipped cream and ground nutmeg (for garnish)
- To make the batter: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Heat, stirring frequently until the butter is completely melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
- To make each cocktail, combine the hot water with the batter in a mug, and then stir vigorously to combine.
- Add in the rum and stir to combine. Taste, and add additional batter if you like it on the sweeter side.
- Top with a large dollop of whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.