Wolf Creek by Nikko Lee
Prizm Books, 2015
For three generations, the powerful Silverbane pack of werewolves has governed the town of Wolf Creek, protecting the vast forests that surround the settlement and guarding against incursions by other creatures tainted with evil. Respected alpha Eric Silverbane has taught his family members to subdue their inner beasts in order to maintain a truce with the Amazons, fierce nature goddesses who would otherwise have eradicated the wolves. The family has grown and prospered during these peaceful years. Then Eric’s sudden death shatters the harmony within the pack, as various members vie for control.
Twenty year old Josh wants nothing more than to escape from Wolf Creek. The lowest of the low, an omega who can’t even shift unless commanded by an alpha, he endures ridicule and abuse at the hands of the other pack members. Only Eric has ever treated him with kindness. With Eric gone, Josh’s situation becomes even more precarious, but he cannot leave. It is the responsibility and the destiny of the omega wolf to identify the individual who should become the next alpha.
Josh’s struggle to accept and fulfill this critical role lies at the core of Nikko Lee’s satisfying new novel Wolf Creek. Ms. Lee vividly conveys Josh’s sense of alienation, not to mention his legitimate fears for his own safety. Josh has internalized the negativity constantly beamed in his direction. He sees himself as weak, helpless, bumbling and cowardly, a city-leaning boy in a family of rugged outdoorsmen, a thinker surrounded by energetic doers. His sexual identification as gay makes him even more of an outcast in the pack.
Initially Josh does not recognize his strengths: his quick mind; his unique skills as a negotiator; his empathic powers; his honesty, decency and sense of responsibility to a family who has for the most part rejected him. The quest to find the next alpha, however, brings out the best in him. With the help of Andrea, a young Amazon who’s as much of an outcast as he is, Josh engages in a desperate race against time to find a werewolf who can assume Silverbane’s mantle and prevent Josh’s power-corrupted cousin Bryce from shattering the truce.
Ms. Lee has created a convincing and engaging world for her paranormal creatures, complete with culture, history, and rituals. Her werewolves aren’t that much different from humans, so the occasional flashes of supernatural power feel all the more exciting. For instance, Josh literally cannot disobey an alpha’s direct command. At the same time, he’s an expert at forestalling such commands, using words to subtly manipulate wolves with higher status and greater power.
I had some problems relating to Andrea. Her mercurial personality didn’t make much sense to me, and her tendency to treat everything as a joke made her seem much younger than Josh, though in fact she’s supposed to be twenty four. The relationship between Andrea and Gavin, the hunky park ranger, also puzzled me. I found it a bit implausible that someone as serious as Gavin would find Andrea attractive.
Most of the book takes Josh’s point of view. This is highly effective. It allows the reader to really feel the young omega’s despondency and desperation. There are a few sections, however, where we see the world through Andrea’s eyes, and one or two scenes narrated from the perspective of the villainous Bryce. Personally, I felt that these shifts in point of view weakened the novel. I understand the role these scenes play in propelling the plot forward, but I wish that Ms. Lee could have found a way to handle this while still remaining inside Josh’s head.
Overall, though, Wolf Creek is absorbing and enjoyable. Strangely, Amazon categorizes the book as “romance”. This is, in my opinion, a mislabeling. The book does not focus primarily on a romantic relationship, and indeed (spoiler alert) Josh does not find a sexual partner by the end of the book. Wolf Creek is really a coming of age story. Josh acquires self-knowledge, self-confidence, a greater degree of self-acceptance, and finally, some sense of belonging.
This is a different sort of happy ending. And I must admit that Wolf Creek did leave me with good feelings.