Review by Charis Young
Dundurn Press, August 2021
Paperback, 336 pages, CAD $14.99, 9781459747524
Grades 7+, Ages 12+
Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Trying to survive without your family is difficult. 40,000 years ago, it was almost impossible. In Patricia Miller-Schroeder’s action-packed novel Sisters of the Wolf, two prehistoric young girls on the cusp of adulthood are facing struggles in their clans. Keena, a 13-year-old Krag (Neanderthal), is feeling helpless after seeing a Sabretooth Lion attack a small child in her care; Shinoni, the young daughter of a shaman of the Kula (Cro-Magnon), is struggling with being a girl and unable to join in hunts or spirit quests as the boys do. When Haken, a relentless hunter, comes into their lives, they must work together to survive in the harsh wilderness and escape him while also coming to trust each other and the wolf, Tewa, that is following them.
Set far into the past, the world of this story is lush with prehistoric wildlife, landscapes and dangers on every page. The story is well-balanced in showing both of our protagonists’ perspectives of the world around them based on their often at-odds belief systems. Sisters of the Wolf does a wonderful job of slowly building a relationship between Shinoni and Keena based on their growing trust as they fight their way across a landscape that is starting to fall into winter. Shinoni is often presented as a “wise” character, having been trained by her grandmother the medicine woman. Keena brings strength and wilderness smarts from her own clashes with nature that she uses to protect and save Shinoni from her own cocky nature throughout the story. The growing bond between them grows to encompass the reader, making you root for the girls to succeed.
The story does suffer from some pacing issues at the beginning and in the late middle of the book. Some chapters end abruptly, leaving a gap when readers might expect a moment of conflict or tension. In the later part of the story, narrative momentum is lost as deus ex machina moments allow the girls to escape easily, or the encounters resolve so quickly that their stakes are dramatically lowered.
Sisters of the Wolf is a fascinating look at how life may have been for some of our earliest ancestors in the ice ages. The characters are rich and interesting in their struggles to find a balance between surviving and continuing to share their cultures with one another. The speckling of mysticism present in the hyper-intelligent wolf and the two characters’ religious beliefs are deeply woven into the realistic struggles to survive in a harsh world. All of this is matched to the dark atmosphere of being hunted across a frozen landscape. If you enjoy slowly built friendships with a hint of darkness or stories based on the forgotten past, Miller-Schroeder has you covered.
Charis Young is a Creative Writing Undergrad at UBC. Reading and writing have been one of her passions for as long as she can remember. She often has to read passages to her cat who gets interested when she has a big reaction.