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Timber Wolf by C. Pignat

Pignat, Caroline. Timber Wolf. Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2011.Print.

The first book in this series, Greener Pastures, won a Governor General’s Award in 2009.  This volume doesn’t meet that bar.  When we enter the world of Timber Wolf, it is through the eyes and person of someone who has woken up in the snow at the bottom of a cliff, not knowing who or where he is. He just knows that he is injured and cold. Readers do not know where the character is in time or space, except that he is in a forest. As the story unfolds, the reader learns more as the protagonist gradually remembers and eventually reveals the whole story. The book is young adult fiction and is designed to grab and hold young readers’ attentions.  The action moves quickly and Pignat keeps the reader hungry for the next bit of information.

While Pignat has clearly done her historical research and attests to this in the end-notes, there are many unlikely scenarios. In fact there are so many unlikely events that I expected the book to progress to full magic realism or to reveal itself as the hallucinations of a man dying of a head-injury and hypothermia at the bottom of a cliff.  But it did neither, so I presume that Pignat meant the reader to accept that a wild wolf would or could rescue a drowning man who had fallen through the ice of a frozen lake, would bring him game to cook and would allow itself to be petted.  Pignat has the young man step into a bear trap and get out of it with mere flesh wounds.  Given the technology of bear traps in the mid-1800’s, it is unlikely that he would not have had broken bones and probably faced amputation. While Pignat has consulted with indigenous people to ensure that depictions are accurate, it is unlikely that indigenous trappers would have taken an injured person home, nursed him back to health, and then deliberately shot him in the back with an arrow, but not shot to kill, requiring that they heal him all over again.  Not only would that have required additional resources, but it would have also wasted a perfectly good arrow.

There is so much violence in the few months covered by the book, that it, too, is unlikely.  The young man, who eventually remembers that he is Jack Byrne, (and hence a character from Greener Pastures) also remembers accidentally chopping of someone’s fingers, seeing his friend drown and finally remembers that he was beaten until he fell off the cliff.  His hands are frozen, he nearly drowns, he is attacked by a bear, caught in a bear-trap, captured by a man who has been grotesquely disfigured by fire, knocked unconscious as a form of anesthetic, has his wounds cauterized with hot steel, is kept tethered in leg irons and is shot with an arrow.  One wonders how much more trauma one young man could survive.  Historical “adventure” fiction doesn’t need to be violent to be exciting.

Timber Wolf is a gripping read and entertaining, if you can ignore the jolts of the unlikely events and maintain your suspension of disbelief.  Many young adult readers will probably be able to do that and will enjoy the book. Recommended with reservations for public and school libraries.

Recommended:  3 out of 4 stars
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.