First off, I want to say that readers will likely want to begin this book on a weekend, or when they have some serious time to read. Because it is long. And, while I never felt it slow, there is no getting around the length.
Secondly: wow. Or, Wow. Quite possibly WOW.
I’ve read a metric ton of shifter books. Hetero, gay, lesbian, ménage, YA. For real, this is a genre that I know.
Wolfsong stands apart.
Ox is a strapping boy, if a bit slow. He’s teased for his lack of intellect, but he’s a steadfast and loving boy who takes care of his mom, working in the place of his derelict father from the age of 14. He becomes a mechanic in their small town of Green Creek, building lasting friendships with his fellow grease monkeys, especially Gordo, the owner of the garage.
Ox and his mom share a small cottage in the woods, which shares a lane with a stately home that’s been abandoned nearly Ox’s whole life.
On his 16th birthday, Ox meets Joe Bennett, who he believes to be a precocious kid, but 10-year-old Joe hadn’t spoken in over a year before they meet. The Bennetts have moved into the abandoned house and he wants Ox to meet his family, so he drags Ox to their house. It all seems very sweet, especially when Joe gifts Ox with a small stone wolf on the next day—a belated birthday gift.
The Bennetts are absolutely gone for Ox, in a way that’s strange to him. He has close relationships with his mom and Gordo, but Joe’s parents and uncle and elder brothers really interact with him strongly. When bullies at school attempt to taunt Ox, the Bennett boys stand up for him. They invite Ox over for dinners all the time, and Joe is soon Ox’s best friend. Joe’s father counsels Ox continually until Ox begins to think of him as his true father—and the feeling is mutual.
The years pass and over time Ox recognizes the oddities of the Bennett pack. Because they are indeed werewolves. His strong connection to Joe binds Ox to the pack in a way none had really predicted, and it’s Ox that Joe needs to maintain his grasp on humanity. Little did Ox realize that Joe’s gift so many years ago would bind them forever. Ox is a man who gives his whole heart, like Joe, even if Ox doesn’t see Joe as a partner for much of the book. He is so much younger, and fragile in many ways when they meet. The story unfolds over a period of nearly fifteen years of Ox’s life. And the revelations that he finds in himself and his pack are far more than Ox could have ever expected.
Even without a love spark, Ox has a protectiveness for Joe that is unwavering. He learns of Joe’s previous kidnap and torture by a rogue wolf, and is filled with rage for Joe’s suffering. That his abuser lives is a serious problem, especially when he escapes his magic-fortified prison. Ox and Joe share a love that was so present for so long that the second Ox realizes the sexual feelings he has for an almost-grown Joe, he’s humiliated for being so blind. There are moments of such sweetness and humor, and they help with the parts that are so dire.
I honestly don’t want to linger too long on the plot, because it is epically winding. An underdog becomes a hero. The unlovable finds love. Strength is a measure of power, and force, but also of patience and love. Bad guys will take and take until they cannot take any longer. It is the righteous who will win the day. Any of these could summarize themes in the book. Rest assured that all the threads are part of a rich and beautiful tapestry that is resolved at the end. It’s mostly a love story between Ox and Joe, but also between Ox and Ox, and that may sound stupid, but Ox has no love for himself. That the future Alpha of all the North American werewolf packs, Joe, loves him is unimaginable, unfathomable. He’s a simple man, and his world is turned inside out by his connection to Joe and the Bennett pack. There is first love and heartbreak and battles to the death and mourning and separation and deep longing and resentment and daring moments and heroic measures.
The writing itself is non-standard, with prose that is lyrical in many ways and was a little challenging at first. The entire book is told by Ox’s viewpoint and the spare sentence structure often belies the deep context. Repetition of certain images and memories are a big part of the story, and how Ox sees his world—not just in abstract emotions, but in vibrant color and brutal clarity. The characterization is epic, and that includes the accessory characters, as well. I could completely see several spin-off books from this one alone, because I would read whatever the author had to offer on at least five other characters from the Bennett pack. I want to assure readers that, despite the pack wars and the double crosses and the separation and the resentment, the book ends on a happy note. There are a couple of scenes of steamy goodness, but it’s a small slice of the giant pie.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.