Skip to main content

Once There Were Wolves


Once There Were Wolves

Following the widely acclaimed release of her debut, MIGRATIONS, Charlotte McConaghy returns with ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES, a propulsive story set in the Scottish Highlands.

Inti Flynn was brought up in the wild, taught to respect the many balances of nature and the cycles that keep it in check. Raised by a detective mother and a former logger-turned-naturalist father, Inti and her sister, Aggie, were never protected from the violence of the world, natural or human. From their mother they learned of men who beat, torture and murder their girlfriends and wives; from their father they learned of the way that a predator can help its prey survive and give life to new forms of flora and fauna.

Now an adult, Inti has been tasked with leading a team of biologists attempting to rehabilitate 14 wolves by introducing them to a forest in Scotland where they were forcefully pushed out by centuries of kings, hunters and livestockers. Their hope is to reinvigorate the ecosystem by introducing a necessary predator to cull the deer population, thereby helping the vegetation grow, and keep the foxes at bay, helping smaller mammals, like badgers, thrive. The project is not without its deniers. Local farmers, forced into poverty by climate change (as much as they refuse to believe it) and advances in technology, cannot bear the thought of yet another strike against their livelihoods.

"Whether you’re in for an exquisite study of wolves, a murder-mystery straddled across viewpoints and experiences, or even a hard-fought love story, ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES has it all."

Beyond her obvious reverence for nature, Inti is blessed --- perhaps cursed --- with mirror-touch synesthesia, a unique ability to recreate the sensory experiences of the living creatures she sees. Witnessing her sister punching a teenage bully in the face, or an alpha male wolf snuggling against a desired mate, can put her right in their shoes (or paws, as it were) feeling every fist hit, every bristle of fur and the coldness of a snout. Now that she has been charged with rehabilitating wolves back into the Highlands, Inti’s synesthesia feels almost amplified, tied to her personal desire to make this work, to make the forest a safe, habitable home for the wolves after a hundred years astray.

Inti and her team have a stellar track record of introducing wolves in America’s Yellowstone Park, so although they have their fears and doubts, they are pleasantly surprised when their wolves begin to thrive. Female number Six is impregnated by Male number Nine, and the pack from one unit is hunting deer as they are meant to do. Despite not-so-subtle threats from the locals, Inti and her team start to feel comfortable in their work. When a wolf is killed by a farmer who believed it to be a wild dog --- despite all evidence to the contrary --- Inti and her team are helped through the loss by the discovery of a litter of wolf pups. Slowly but surely, their work is starting to mean something.

Inti’s team and the careful balance they have found with the community is thrown into disarray when a local is found dead. Fearing for the safety of her wolves, Inti makes a rash decision that puts the whole initiative at risk, raising tensions and forcing her to confront some of the trauma of her past and the searing repercussions of violence. Combining a murder mystery with a hearty dose of family dysfunction and haunting, poignant descriptions of the checks and balances of nature, ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES is a thoroughly satisfying, remarkable follow-up to MIGRATIONS.

As she did in her previous novel, Charlotte McConaghy once again introduces us to a flawed main character with plenty of backstory. Inti is a complicated woman, as passionate about her career and the animals it protects as she is reckless and quick to act without much rational thought. Aggie also plays a role in her life, bound to her sister by a tragic accident that is revealed in brief vignettes that heavily feature their wildly different parents and the ways they raised their girls. McConaghy writes in alternating timelines, using the wolves to propel the narrative forward, their highs amplified by moments of shocking violence and their lows equally matched by trauma in Inti’s own life. This is a multilayered, cleverly constructed book full of brutalities and beauty, and McConaghy handles all of it with a clear-eyed gaze and an even hand.

As in MIGRATIONS, McConaghy once again focuses on the interconnectedness of nature and the human world. Whether reflecting on the effects of climate change or the violence we have wrought on the world, she never shies away from revealing the cause and effect of our actions, and the ways we are ruining the world forever. And yet, unbelievably, her overarching love for the natural world gives every book she writes an air of resiliency and hope. Never before have I rooted for our world so thoroughly; never before have I felt so called to action.

Whether you’re in for an exquisite study of wolves, a murder-mystery straddled across viewpoints and experiences, or even a hard-fought love story, ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES has it all. McConaghy will enrapture any reader with her gorgeous, vivid descriptions of nature, life and death and the universal truths hidden between them both. Like MIGRATIONS, this book will change the way you think about the world and your place in it.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 6, 2021

Once There Were Wolves
by Charlotte McConaghy

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250244153
  • ISBN-13: 9781250244154