2006 – “The Tenderness of Wolves” by Stef Penney

Stef Penney is a new author to me but The Tenderness of Wolves was an award winning book so I decided to give it a try. I am very glad that I did.

This is an historical novel set in Canada in the 1800s. It is a time when there are settlers from many different backgrounds trying to establish themselves in a difficult and often hostile environment where indigenous people already live. The reasons for settling there are varied but their occupations revolve around hunting, fishing and trapping or supporting those who do that.

When a French settler is killed in his isolated cabin the suspicion falls on a young and troubled man who has disappeared. His mother sets out to find him and clear his name. We see a lot of the book through the eyes of Mrs Ross (no first name is ever given) and we also learn something of her history and the reasons why she has come to the area. Other people are also looking for the missing man because they think that he has secrets about a piece of inscribed wood or some missing furs both of which could have great value. The book then follows a number of these other people through to a climax where violence is used to try and resolve the situation.

We get a good feel for the land and its people. Many of them are chancers but others are honest people just trying to make a living – it is hard to tell the difference sometimes. Not everyone can be trusted and no motive is completely clear. As we get to know the protagonists other stories emerge – two missing teenagers, an abusive past, a possible love affair, a religious settlement that takes in strays, a trusted man who drinks too much, a marriage which is failing.

This is a book written at a very even pace. The author introduces us to the main characters and then we travel with them into the wilderness and their quest to find the missing young man and traces of the lost objects. Each of these people seems as isolated as the landscape but the book keeps showing us connections between them and how the actions of one person impacts others. It’s a story about facing your worst fears and overcoming them.

I am not always a fan of historical novels but I very much enjoyed this one. I loved the way in which it was written and the straight thinking narrative voice of Mrs Ross. I enjoyed the glimpse into the motives of those making a living in this difficult area and understood the willingness of some to cheat others if it was to their advantage. In the end this is a book about people who are linked by one person and his death and the effect that this has on each of them. It’s beautifully written and the landscape plays a very important part in the novel.

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