Hannah Steenbock, in the Wolves of the South series of thus far six books (with a seventh being worked on), does somewhat of a headflip of the typical trope of portraying werewolves as bloodthirsty monsters unable to control their instincts and signature traits, not least their shapeshifting.
Instead, we get to follow a race of wolf shifters with a strong sense of family and honor, strong ethics and a clear sense of what they feel is right and wrong, who are just as in control of themselves as are most real-world humans. Struggling to survive.
Hunted by men.
The first book in the series, A Wolf’s Quest (which is available free of charge in ebook form; the rest of the series costs a few dollars or euros per book for the ebooks, and is available DRM-free for reading on almost any type of device without any particular software requirements), focuses primarily on the trials of Ben and Sylvia; a chance meeting at a gas station which eventually grows into a romantic interest. As the series goes on, we get to meet more and more of these wolf shifters, who prefer to refer to themselves as simply “wolves”, seeing their struggle. Naturally we also get to meet others, including Hunters, humans adamant about and who will stop at almost nothing in their efforts to exterminate the wolves, as well as people who are caught variously in between the sides and end up having to make difficult choices, knowing that they will have to live for the rest of their lives with the consequences of whichever choice they make.
The series is set in a world very similar to our own, geographically in the United States, complete with much technology that we are used to, including computers and the Internet. Also within Steenbock’s world, lore about werewolves very similar to that of our real world exists – and, it turns out, not only are the wolves aware of it, but some of it is actually true, and some of it they wish were true. With the exception of the Hunters, however, the generally held belief among humans is that “werewolves” don’t exist, nor can exist, with predictable results when people realize what these wolves are and that they are actually for real – some humans taking the revelation better than others. The wolves also do their best to fit in, including working with humans as everything from sheepdogs to security personnel, generally without revealing their true nature, seeing as that with Hunters who might learn of their nature, to keep it concealed can be a matter of life and death for both themselves and their friends.
Although the series is described as not having “steamy” scenes, and the reader doesn’t get to see much when it happens, there is strongly implied sex in several places in the books, to say nothing of how many times it’s described how the wolves think largely nothing of being stark naked even in their human form. And while Steenbock describes the series as lacking in “that tacky alpha nonsense”, these books do show the concept of alphas in a manner more reminiscent of real-world wolf packs, which are actually largely just families or occasionally extended families where “alpha” is often simply another word for “parent”; with individuals assuming a leadership position not by forcing others to do their bidding, but by others choosing to follow the lead of and deferring to the experience of the individuals who do lead. And just as in the real world, theirs too is inhabited also by individuals who are more interested in power for personal gain than to do what’s best for the group, as well as individuals who follow another’s leadership while also questioning choices of the individual who they defer to.
The pacing within each book is what I would consider moderate. This is not a hack-and-slash litany of one fight right after another, and on numerous occasions the characters are shown doing relatively mundane things including simply having a dinner with their friends; yet there’s always enough going on to drive the narrative forward. This pacing allows the reader sufficient time to get to know the characters, their motivations, fears and dilemmas, and even encourages getting to know the characters, while not making it feel like events drag on for significantly longer than is warranted by the storytelling. Also, if you know your canine behavior and body language, you’ll notice that Steenbock has worked in some of those just-right little details here and there, as well as details which are decidedly more human than wolf – and some that aren’t quite either.
On the whole, this is a series where it’s easy to get drawn in and care about what happens to the characters.
Unfortunately, when looked at as a series, the pace of the story is slowed down quite a lot by the fact that a good portion at the beginning of particularly two of the books (A Wolf’s Fear and A Wolf’s Honor, the second and third book respectively) is spent simply catching up to the point in time that the story had advanced to at the end of the previous book, but from the point of view of other characters. The upshot of this is that we get to see what has happened through the eyes of and to characters with whom we have not yet spent any significant time, with much less head-hopping as it happens and keeping the number of characters introduced in each book more managable; but the downside is that it uses up a good number of pages which could have more directly advanced the story. In the case of A Wolf’s Honor, this adds up to approaching two thirds of the book, which, even though the events depicted themselves were captivating and there are a number of references to those events later in the series, still left me with a feeling of so when do we get to where we were? This got perhaps especially frustrating since Steenbock would finish with fairly large cliffhangers.
Another thing to be aware of is the head-hopping, with different chapters being written from the point of view each of a different character. This kind of point of view shifting is something that a lot of readers will either love or hate, but regardless of one’s take on it, it does allow for following events from different characters’ perspectives without relying on for example omniscient third person, which can easily be even more jarring not to mention feeling detached, as if reading a news story recount rather than a first-hand or second-hand account of events; or relying on one closely followed point of view character, possibly also being the narrator, describing only what they are able to observe and what they are told as they become aware of events. I don’t mind the technique, but in the specific case, even though each chapter is clearly labelled with the name of the viewpoint character, I found myself on more than one occasion having to think about who the “I” referred to. It’s a small issue, but did break immersion a little bit for me at times. More clearly establishing the narrating character within the story itself near the beginning of each chapter probably could have helped.
And then, right at the end of the sixth and currently last book (A Wolf’s Peril), Steenbock pretty much closes with a bit of a bombshell revelation that caught even the main characters themselves by apparent total surprise. I won’t ruin anyone’s enjoyment by telling what it is, but it’s something I do hope that Steenbock explores a bit further in future books in the series or set in the same world.
Overall, if you enjoy reading paranormal fiction, particularly involving werewolves, but don’t care for Hollywood-style werewolves portrayed as they often are in horror movies, then the Wolves of the South series may very well be money well spent.