Review by Hira Peracha
HarperTeen, HarperCollins Publishers, 28 April 2020
512 pages, Paperback, $23.99 CAD, 978-0-06-287797-0
Ages 15+, Grades 10-12
Young Adult, Fantasy
Around them, the rain thundered on. Darkness clouded the Faustian’s dull scales. Soon its corpse would begin to erode. Flesh darkening, fangs loosening. In a few months, it would be dryness and dust, as fragile as sandcastles on a Granica beach. Soon enough, wind would blow the dust from its flawless silver bones.
“It’s not our home anymore.”
Tadeusz put an arm around his little brother’s shoulders. “For a thousand years, our people have run with wolves and slain dragons. We are heirs to gold and fire, baptized under ice, destined to inherit a tradition as ancient as the hills themselves. Whatever lengths we travel, Lukasz, whatever worlds we visit: we shall be buried in the shadow of the Mountains, beneath the blessings of wolves.”
Don’t Call the Wolf by Aleksandra Ross, told in two separate third-person narratives, introduces Polish lore to the teen reader in an easy and accessible way. In the prologue, we immediately understand the havoc the Golden Dragon has caused and are immediately immersed in the world of fantastical creatures, amplified by visceral descriptions and action sequences that flow like movie scenes. Rising above the many beasts in the novel, the Golden Dragon casts a shadow over the kingdom of Kamieńa. Its presence looms and lingers, literally and figuratively.
Seventeen-year-old Ren—the forest’s half-human, half-lynx queen—must deal with the fact that a swarm of monsters are taking over her kingdom. She’s a complex character with a tough exterior, a warrior whose every movement is sleek and calculated to protect her forest from being overrun. However, her compassion and softer side are communicated through her internal thoughts.
Meanwhile, for twenty-one-year-old Wolf-Lord Lukasz, the Golden Dragon is a painful reminder of his past. It has stolen both his family and his home. He is the last of the Wolf-Lords, a brigade of dragon hunters which once consisted of him and his nine brothers. One by one his brothers left to defeat the dragon and reclaim their home within the Mountains, but one after another they all disappeared. The Wolf-Lords, although absent in the story, are ever-present in Lukasz’s thoughts as his past haunts him and affects every decision he makes. And there is a possibility that one of his brothers, Franciszek, is still alive. When a tragic accident leaves him unable to use his left hand, Lukasz asks Ren to help him find his brother. In return, he promises to defeat the Golden Dragon—a far more difficult feat than he realized.
Lukasz and Ren are an interesting team. While Ren is cautious, stubborn and protective of her kingdom, Lukasz is determined but struggling with his past.
The entire novel is filled with lyrical descriptions that follow you after you finish reading. One of the most interesting creatures is the haunting “rusalka,” an ethereal but nasty being who likes to tear its prey into pieces. There are an abundance of names and places to remember, however, Ross does a great job fitting in definitions and explanations to assist the reader. While it was sometimes difficult to keep up with the pronunciations, there’s a helpful glossary to consult.
Having not read a Polish inspired story previously, the overall heavy lore reminded me of the deep Norse myths that influences The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer. In Don’t Call the Wolf, we learn the lore through the actions and dialogue as well as the exposition, somewhat similar to the retelling of Norse mythology and Jack’s journey in The Sea of Trolls.
Don’t Call the Wolf is a great story for those interested in Polish lore as well as for those seeking a mystical adventure with excellent twists and turns.
Hira Peracha is a recent graduate from the Psychology and Creative Writing programs at the University of British Columbia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry.