TJ KLUNE Wolfsong and Ravensong: Green Creek Books 1 and 2. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley
TJ Klune’s werewolves challenge gender roles and showcase love and understanding among the bloodletting.
‘… even one such as you cannot live on rage alone.’
In Wolfsong, the first of TJ Klune’s Green Creek series, Oxnard’s father walks out one day, scarring him for life. From then on it’s just him, his mother and the daily struggle to keep up with the mortgage. When the Bennetts move back next door after a long absence, Ox forms a close friendship with their youngest son, Joe, and becomes part of their close-knit family. There have always been whispers in this small country town that the rich, aloof Bennetts are so odd that they must be in a cult, but the truth is far more extraordinary. A lot of things start to make sense when Ox sees them transform into wolves one full moon, and he’s excited to be part of something magical.
But when murder tears the family apart and Joe leaves, bent on revenge, Ox is left behind to pick up the pieces. If Joe ever returns, will there be anything to come back to?
The fairly simple, poetic sentences make Ox’s voice captivating, particularly watching him grow up, work out that he’s bisexual and come out to different people. He also has to contend with nearly everyone assuming he’s ‘a bit slow’ because he doesn’t feel the need to fill silence with chatter. The story really highlights the tragedy of calling anyone a retard when it’s impossible to know everything that’s going on inside their head; Ox could strip down an engine by the time he was nine and by 14 he understands human nature better than most adults, yet still he gets judged and found wanting:
Sometimes I walked in the woods. Things were clearer there.
The trees swayed in the breeze. Birds told me stories.
They didn’t judge me.
This is a story about werewolves so perhaps it’s understandable that, as part of the myths around them, there is macho, overly possessive and aggressive behaviour on show, but I did find some of it a bit tiresome. It seemed out of place, given how these stories seem to set out to challenge the whole ‘real men don’t cry’ stereotype and instead showcase love, forgiveness and understanding. Wolfsong pokes a great deal of fun at gender roles and the limitations they can impose on people:
We didn’t say it. We didn’t have to. We both knew what it was. It was just easier to be awkward about it. Because we were men.
Reading Wolfsong was almost like reading two different books at once: one that resonated with me – the story about Ox growing out of his absent father’s shadow – and another that did not, where multiple relationship red flags are overlooked, just because someone’s a werewolf and has been through something awful. It was hard to believe someone could say ‘sometimes, I want to put my teeth in you just to watch you bleed’ and still be a loving, supportive partner. The sequel, Ravensong, is similar in that regard but not as confronting.
One thing that was amusing was all the talk of alphas and their ability to magically force obedience. The idea of real-life wolf packs being led by an alpha male dictator is itself a myth brought about by an old study of the behaviour of captive, stressed wolves who were essentially strangers shoved together into a big cage. This article by Stephanie Pappas in Scientific American likens it to making assumptions about human familial relationships solely by looking at prison hierarchies. That said, the more emotionally healthy werewolf packs in the books do function more like wolves actually do in the wild, as a family with parents, basic rules and boundaries.
The second book of the series, Ravensong, is told from the perspective of Gordo, who helped out Ox in Wolfsong after his father left, and includes flashbacks to Gordo’s past: from the age of six he was trained to be a witch serving a werewolf pack. It’s a nice contrast to the previous book and how excited Ox was to learn about this hidden, magical world. For his part, Gordo finds ordinary people exotic and amazing, partly because they have very different expectations of him, and there’s something poignant about that:
I loved them because of what they were not.
They weren’t pack. They weren’t wolves. They weren’t witches.
They were normal and plain and boring and wonderful.
After everything that happened in Wolfsong, Gordo finds himself somewhere he swore he never wanted to be again – as the witch of the Bennett pack. Even as he is forced to confront his still complicated feelings towards the pack that once left him behind, especially his bitter history with Mark, something worse is coming and only a strong pack, with bonds built on mutual trust, stands any hope of defeating it. Can they resolve their issues enough to survive?
I enjoyed these books but they could have been more culturally sensitive. It’s never addressed whether the blond, blue-eyed Bennetts, who, it is strongly implied, have lived on their special territory in America forever and derive a special magic from that connection, have any First Nations heritage that would make that actually true. It’s fair enough if the author didn’t feel that was his story to tell (it’s not mine either), but avoiding the topic entirely doesn’t feel helpful.
There are a lot of aspects to these books that are enjoyable and wholesome, alongside things that, at least to me, seemed quite jarring. Nonetheless, they are worth reading for the things that are done well: they’re both funny and moving in the space of a heartbeat.
TJ Klune Wolfsong: Green Creek Book 1 Tor 2022 PB 496pp $22.99
TJ Klune Ravensong: Green Creek Book 2 Tor 2023 PB 576pp $34.99
Amelia Dudley has degrees in plant biology and currently works as a tutor.
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