Once There Were Wolves

Photo of Charlotte McConaghy's Once There Were Wolves paperback ARC copy

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Book Review

“Not long ago, not in the grand scheme of things, this forest was not small and sparse but strong and bursting with life. Lush with rowan trees, aspen, birch, juniper and oak, it stretched itself across a vast swathe of land, coloring Scotland’s now-bare hills, providing food and shelter to all manner of untamed thing. 

And within these roots and trunks and canopies, there ran wolves.”

As part of the Cairngorms wolf project, Inti Flynn is tasked with reintroducing wolves to the Scottish Highlands. It has been centuries since the last wolf was killed in Scotland, and the landscape has suffered as a result. In a conservation effort, wolves are being reintroduced to the area. Many people, including Inti’s team of scientists, are excited about the project. But many of the locals, in particular the farmers, are resistant to the change. When a local man is murdered, all signs point to one of the wolves. Inti refuses to believe that a wolf is responsible. But if not a wolf, then who? And how far is Inti willing to go to keep the wolves safe?

Told in the first person from Inti’s perspective, Once There Were Wolves is a propulsive tale. It’s told in present, but frequently features flashbacks to Inti’s childhood and her life in Alaska with her twin sister, Aggie. Aggie has not spoken since the twins left Alaska, alluding to a traumatic event. She communicates solely in a sign language she invented when the sisters were children, and lives a secluded, quiet life. In contrast, Inti is a force to be reckoned with. She is fiercely protective of her wolves and lacks the proper tact to have successful interactions with the local farmers. I was fascinated by the dynamic between the two sisters. Having spent their entire lives together, Aggie followed Inti to Scotland. A large part of the story revolves around the mystery of the girl’s past, in particular, what happened to Aggie.

Overall, I didn’t love the plot of Once There Were Wolves as much as McConaghy’s last book, Migrations, but I loved the gorgeous imagery and I was absolutely fascinated by the wolves. Each of the wolves is assigned a number instead of a name to keep the scientists from getting attached. But naturally, as the reader, I became very attached to the different wolves. I loved watching them form packs and have pups, and cried for them when things inevitably took a turn for the worse.

Conservation is such a big part of this story. I was fascinated by the concept of “rewilding”. In this context, it meant controlling the deer population by introducing a keystone predator, the wolf. The intended result was to increase woodland growth. 

“When you open your heart to rewilding a landscape, the truth is, you’re opening your heart to rewilding yourself”

This isn’t a book for the faint of heart. It is an emotional page-turner. Without giving too much away, the story contains violence against both humans and animals, as well as sexual assault. But despite that, this is a gorgeous narrative. I learned so much about rewilding efforts and the nature of wolves. It made me want to lose myself in the forest of the Scottish Highlands.

Thank you to Flatiron Books and Netgalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

Synopsis from Goodreads

Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape, but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska.

Inti is not the woman she once was, either, changed by the harm she’s witnessed—inflicted by humans on both the wild and each other. Yet as the wolves surprise everyone by thriving, Inti begins to let her guard down, even opening herself up to the possibility of love. But when a farmer is found dead, Inti knows where the town will lay blame. Unable to accept her wolves could be responsible, Inti makes a reckless decision to protect them. But if the wolves didn’t make the kill, then who did? And what will Inti do when the man she is falling for seems to be the prime suspect?

Propulsive and spell-binding, Charlotte McConaghy’s Once There Were Wolves is the unforgettable story of a woman desperate to save the creatures she loves—if she isn’t consumed by a wild that was once her refuge.

About the Author

Headshot of author Charlotte McConaghy

Charlotte is an Australian author living in Sydney. 

​She has a Masters Degree in Screenwriting from the Australian Film Television and Radio School, and a number of published SFF works in Australia.

Her novel MIGRATIONS is her first foray into adult literary fiction, published in North America by Flatiron Books, and by Penguin Random House in Australia and the UK. It is being translated into over 20 languages, and adapted to film. 

Fuelled by her love of nature and her interest in stories of fierce women, McConaghy’s newest novel, ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES, is about a biologist charged with reintroducing wolves to the Scottish Highlands in order to rewild the landscape and bring a forest back to life. It will be released in August 2021.

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