The first book I read by Michelle Paver was the Arctic spine-tingler Dark Matter – a stunning work, creepy and claustrophobic, a modern entry in the long and illustrious tradition of ghost stories. Wolf Brother is a completely different beast – both in terms of subject matter, and in terms of audience. Dark Matter is most definitely an adult book, while Wolf Brother is for children 8 and up.
But they share some similarities, particularly in the depth and verisimilitude of the setting – Paver really manages to sell the loneliness of an Arctic outpost in the same way that she makes Torak’s neolithic forest come alive for the reader.
Wolf Brother is a coming-of-age tale, with young orphaned Torak suddenly launched on a quest, all the while pursued by a demonic bear. He encounters a wolf cub, orphaned like him, and they form a bond.
Torak forms an alliance with a girl called Renn, and together the three travel on their quest. On the way they search for answers to the mysteries that beset them – is Torak destined to rid the world of the demonic bear? How did the bear become possessed? Why had Torak and his father been living apart from their clan? How can Torak understand what Wolf is saying?
Some of the most effective sections are the chapters written from the perspective of Wolf – Torak doesn’t have much of an imagination when naming his companion, and similarly Wolf refers to Torak as “Tall Tailless”. Wolf has a completely different perspective on their adventure, and this is utterly fascinating – Paver seems to have a real affinity for and understanding of wolves.
The book is packed with adventure and cracks on at a terrific pace. The characters are believable, Wolf is a delightful companion, and the hints of a deeper darkness that will form the basis of the ongoing series are intriguing.
The highest accolade I can give a children’s book is this – I wish it had been published in the 70s so I could have read it as a child. Wolf Brother is so good that I resent having to view it through the jaded eyes of a 40-something.