The Wolves of Winter

The Wolves of Winter

by Tyrell Johnson


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A post-apocalyptic debut novel in a tradition that includes The Hunger Games and Station Eleven, this vision of a possible future shows humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, the forging of vital bonds when everything is lost, and, most centrally, a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to surface, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter. Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

“With elements of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and TV’s The Walking Dead, (Kirkus Reviews) The Wolves of Winter is both a heartbreaking, sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she's meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules. It is enthralling, propulsive, and poignant.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501155680
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 12/04/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 20,234
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Tyrell Johnson is a twenty-nine-year-old writer and editor who grew up in Bellingham, Washington. He received his MFA from the University of California, Riverside, where he studied fiction and poetry. An avid outdoorsman, he currently lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, northeast of Vancouver with his wife, two kids, and a Siberian husky. The Wolves of Winter is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

The Wolves of Winter

  • The trap was empty and the snow was bloody, which meant one of three things.

    One: The animal had gotten itself loose, making a mess in the process. Unlikely. Too much blood.

    Two: Wolves had gotten to it and somehow managed to drag the carcass out of the trap. Even more unlikely. Not enough blood. Or hair. Besides, their tracks would have been obvious.

    Three: Conrad had poached my kill.

    Thieving, asshole Conrad. Not only likely but, based on the boot prints and snakelike trails that his sled made through the bloody Rorschach marks in the snow, it was the only option. It had snowed early that morning, maybe an hour before the sun crested the hills. A thin dusting had already settled over his prints. He got up early, you had to give Conrad that much. Stealing didn’t seem like him, though. He was an ass, no doubt about it, but a thief?

    The animal’s prints were teardrops, scattered about the bloody mush of snow. Teardrops meant deer. And by the size of the prints, it was a buck. My wire had been snipped too. I’d placed it between two pine trees in a small ravine. The logjams on either side were a bitch to set up, but they herded the animals into the trap. I took the broken wire between my gloved fingers. You know how rare wire was nowadays? I could repair it, but it wouldn’t hold as strong. I was always careful to remove the wire by unthreading it from the tree and the animal so that I could use it again. I was pissed.

    I adjusted my compound bow under my arm and the rope over my left shoulder. The rope was attached to my sled. My uncle Jeryl—Dad’s brother—had made the sled for me four years earlier. About three feet wide, six feet long. It carried small game no problem, a deer was tough for me but manageable, and an elk, caribou, or moose I had to butcher first and carry just the meat. The sled was made of spruce and had bloodstains from past kills splattered about the wood, but it was sturdy. I always dragged it along with me to check the traps.

    A slight easterly wind stung my nose and cracked lips. The sun was gray and bored in the hazy sky, but the fresh fallen snow was still blinding. Sunglasses. I missed sunglasses. I headed southeast, into the wind. It was less than a mile to Conrad’s place. Dragging the sled made it tough going, but I didn’t care. No way in hell I was going to let him keep my kill. He was a big man, though, and he was stronger than me.

    Somewhere, a gray jay woke and started chattering. The wind blew a dusting of snow from the ground that billowed like smoke in the chill morning air, and the sun, not giving a shit about my deer, was probably already contemplating its early descent.

    I was sixteen when we left Eagle, Alaska. When things got bad, when everyone seemed to be leaving, we up and left too. We headed into the Yukon Territory. To the trees, hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow. The vast wilderness of nothing. But for the next seven years, that nothing became home. I got used to it. The whiteness a comfort, the pine trees a refuge, the silence of it a friend I never knew I needed or wanted.

    Being twenty-three now, looking back on my sixteen-year-old self, Alaska feels like a different world. Or a dream. Where people had jobs, hobbies, possessions, friends, and things like ovens, TV, cereal, toasters, pizza. But what made that life real for me was Dad. His death didn’t feel like a lifetime ago. I carried him with me everywhere I went.

    Conrad lived in a small log cabin next to the Blackstone River. He built the place himself, and it always looked to me like it was about to fall over. It leaned slightly to the south. Reminded me of the pine, fir, and spruce trees—the tired-looking ones that were hunched over from the weight of the snow. They looked exhausted, depressed, like they’d given up, given in to the arctic bully. Snow can be a burden sometimes. All the time, really. There didn’t used to be so much of it. Before the wars and the bombs.

    When the cabin came into sight, I spotted the deer right away, lying in the snow next to Conrad’s door. It was a buck, just like I thought, a big buck, a horse with antlers. A good kill. My kill.

    I made my way down the hill to his cabin and walked right up to the carcass. When I got close enough, I let go of the sled and surveyed the animal. The thing was stiff. A clean cut across the jugular. I knelt down and put my hands in the brown fur, then palmed the antlers, the soft velvet on the horns folding beneath my gloves. I’d probably be able to get it on the sled and up and over the first hill or two. But from there I’d have to run and get help to bring it all the way home. First, though, I had to get it off the damn porch. Conrad’s porch. I wiped my frozen nose with the sleeve of my jacket.

    The door creaked open, and Conrad filled the doorway, his dark green winter coat and boots still on, and his .308 rifle held loose at his hip like he was compensating for something. “Admiring my kill?” He had a dense black beard and brown eyes like a wolverine’s, sitting too close to his nose. He was a thick man. Thick around the waist, neck, face, and limbs. How he’d managed to stay so round through the lean months I didn’t know. He had a smell about him too—wet wood, near to rot.

    “This is my kill,” I said.

    He just smiled. Probably had been rehearsing the conversation. “So you slit its throat?” His voice was low, buttery with the pleasure of the situation. He was eating this up.

    I glared, hoping some of the heat I felt in my stomach would transfer through my eyes, laser to his forehead, and burn him to charcoal. “I’m taking it back.”

    “I don’t think so.” He set the rifle down just outside the door.

    “It was my trap.”

    “It was my knife, my find. How was I supposed to know it was your trap?”

    “You knew damn well it was my trap.”

    “A poorly assembled bit of wire?”

    “Set in a ravine, with logjams on either side to herd the animals through. Don’t be stupid.”

    He shrugged, the thin smile never leaving his pinched face. I wanted to punch my fist right through it. Shatter his teeth, jaw, skull.

    “It’s a lovely day,” he said, inhaling the stinging morning air, exhaling tendrils of white steam. “A good day for butchering.”

    “I’m taking the deer,” I said, lifting my rope and pulling in my sled. I set down my bow, wrapped a hand around the buck’s antlers, and started to jerk the massive bulk. Conrad grabbed my arm. His grip was firm, trying to prove something to us both.

    I yanked my arm back, but his fingers just tightened. “Let me go!”

    “I’ll butcher him up, make a nice warm coat for you. We’ll call it even. How’d you like that?”

    My dad always told me that when I’m angry, I make rash decisions. I get it from Mom. Once, back in Alaska, I broke two of my brother’s fingers in the doorway. “Take a breath,” my dad would say, “and think. Think about what you’re going to do, what you want to happen, and if there’s a better way to get things done.”

    But I was too pissed at Conrad. I swung at him. Fist clenched, arm flailing. It was a stupid move. My fist connected with the edge of his jaw. His head barely tipped back. My knuckles vibrated with pain.

    “Bitch.” The word rumbled from his round belly. His eyes grew intense, like those of an animal charging. Hungry. He came at me. I might have had time to raise my arms or duck if I’d thought the bastard would hit a girl. But I didn’t. Didn’t think he had it in him. So I was caught completely unaware when his fist collided with my cheek and knocked me flat to the ground. He wasn’t wearing gloves either.

    The snow wrapped around me like a frozen blanket. My head reeled. The gray of the sky waterfalled to the earth, then the earth to the sky—the pine trees dipped and jumped. I blinked and felt water fill my left eye where he’d struck. Then his weight was on me, firm and heavy, full of heat and iron.

    “You’re dead, you asshole,” I said, gasping. “You’re a dead man.” My voice was weak and didn’t carry the anger I felt.

    His hands pinned me down, his face inches from mine. I couldn’t move. I felt a panicked helplessness.

    “You’re a stupid little girl.” He shifted his weight, his stomach pressing against my side. “You think you have a little community with rules? You don’t. Welcome to the new world. Your brother and uncle can’t do shit to me. They can try if they want, but I’ll fucking kill them.”

    He turned his body again, his left elbow and forearm pushing against my chest, pinning me to the ground. Then his other hand slithered down to my thigh. “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.”

    “I don’t need my uncle; I’ll kill you myself!” I spat in his face and saw a small bead of spit land in his eyelashes, but he just blinked it away. His hand went higher up my thigh. I thrashed and tried to claw his eyeballs, but I couldn’t reach. He was too big, the fat fuck. Then his palm was between my legs. I clenched them, but I could feel his fingers on me. They pressed, dipping and rubbing as I squirmed, helpless as a caught fox. I felt my knife dig into my hip. My Hän knife. I kept it sharp. But my hand was pinned. I couldn’t reach it.

    He leaned in even closer, trembling, his beard tickling my chin. I was going to be sick, was going to throw up in his face. Might have been a good thing if I had.

    “Whatever I want,” he repeated.

    Then it was over. The touching, the weight, the stink of his breath. He released me and stood. I took in quick, shallow gasps of air. My cheek throbbed. I got to my feet as quick as I could and thought about going for my knife or my bow, discarded in the snow beside me. Conrad watched with a pleased look on his face. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was making a statement. Claiming territory. Drawing lines. Letting us know that he wasn’t afraid of us.

    Either way, he was a dead man. I decided to tell him again.

    “You’re a dead man.”

    “Run off to your uncle.”

    I picked up my bow, then snagged the rope attached to my sled. The buck stared at me with his dead, marble eyes. Such an impressive creature, rotting on the front step of Conrad’s shit shack, waiting to be butchered by his careless knife. I gave Conrad one last glare before turning. But the fire didn’t burst out of my watering eyes. It didn’t burn him to charcoal.

    “Bye bye, Gwendolynn,” he said as I walked away.

    “Fuck you, Conrad.”

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Wolves of Winter includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    A captivating tale of humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, of family and bonds of love forged when everything is lost, and of a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny, this debut novel is in a postapocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path.

    Topics and Questions for Discussion

    1. Why do you think the author chose Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself to be the special book shared between Lynn and her father?

    2. Would you have dealt with Conrad, after his attack of Lynn, the same way Jeryl did (page 26)? Why or why not?

    3. Why do you think Ramsey gets upset when Lynn tries to sleep with him? Why does Lynn get “this ball in the pit of [her] stomach” when she thinks about it afterwards (page 37)?

    4. Lynn’s father tells her that first you survive in your head, then in your stomach, and then in your heart. He tells her, “You have to have all three” (page 63). How do Lynn, Mary, Ken, Jeryl, and Ramsey survive at their homestead? Do they each have all three?

    5. Should Lynn have been more wary of Jax and Wolf when they appeared (page 52)? What would you have done in Lynn’s place?

    6. After Jax and Jeryl leave in pursuit of Nayan, Lynn feels, “If I was ever going to get away, this was my chance” (page 116). Why is she so compelled to rush after them in that moment?

    7. While Lynn is at the Immunity camp, Braylen’s motives are difficult for Lynn to decipher. Did Braylen ultimately mean well? Was she trustworthy?

    8. Anders’s methods for combating the flu are “harsh, but they work” (page 185). How might his actions be justified despite their cruelty?

    9. Anders calls Lynn “a stupid child” before his death (page 281). How does Lynn grow and mature over the course of the story? How is she still childlike?

    10. Was Mary right to keep Lynn’s immunity and her father’s letter a secret (page 260)? Should she have told Lynn sooner?

    11. Why does Jeryl leave the camp in search of the bear he believes to be John-Henry (page 290)?

    12. What do you think Lynn and Jax might find in Vancouver (page 297)?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. The Wolves of Winter details some of the routines the McBrides and their friends must keep up in order to survive in the Yukon—hunting, trapping, building their homes from scratch. Watch the documentary Alone in the Wilderness, about a man who built a cabin and lived alone in the Twin Lakes region of Alaska, and discuss what life in the wilderness would be like with your group.

    2. Quotes from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself are woven throughout The Wolves of Winter. Read Song of Myself, or listen to a recording of it at, and discuss your favorite passages.

    Customer Reviews

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    The Wolves of Winter 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love post apocalyptic books but was getting bored with reading one book after the next all sounding pretty much the same...wolves of winter was not like that at was refreshing to read I was excited as I read. It really captivated me to the point I couldn't put it down and read it in one read. Please Absolutely loved this book. I'm looking forward to his next book witch I will definitely be purchasing.
    readers_retreat More than 1 year ago
    This novel has a little bit of everything I love mixed into it - a post-apocalyptic/dystopian society with elements of mystery and coming of age of protagonist, Lynn. The setting is the wilderness of remote Canada. The pacing was excellent and the writing was smooth and easy to follow. Johnson knows how to ratchet up the tension and create great atmospherics. I enjoyed the action throughout and even the hint of romance, which I don't usually appreciate, felt as though it fit in with the overall tone of the book. I generally do like a little romance if it is done well and complements the story. The world-building is vivid and the ending is a satisfying conclusion to the tale. The timing of this release was excellent - there's nothing like reading a book describing beautiful snowy and desolate landscapes when it is cold and/or snowy where you're reading! I would like to thank Tyrell Johnson, HQ and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest and impartial review.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Just ok for me, easy read, predictable.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Quick enjoyable read
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed reading the book. I hope there is another one soon!
    DianeD54 More than 1 year ago
    When I received this book in my PageHabit box, I had not even heard of it. Oh, what a great surprise it was! I loved it. Great characters, great writing - just a big bunch of goodness between two covers. If you like post-apocalyptic, survival, edge of your seat suspense, this book is for you. This is a first novel for Tyrell Johnson and I sure hope another is in the works. I will be first in line to purchase it.
    Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
    I watch a lot of the shows on Discovery that showcase Alaska and the individuals living on the edge of civilization. The individuals in this novel could live in any of these shows. I, myself, don’t think I could survive such extreme conditions and the very thought of being cold, almost every day, sounds like hell to me. I really enjoyed this novel. The writing and the flow within this novel was excellent and I am hoping (seriously hoping) that we will hear more from these characters in the future. I felt an attachment to a few of the characters and to the main character of Lynn, my emotions ran deeper. There’s a slower, more relax feel to the novel as you become accustomed to the Yukon Territory and its lifestyle but as events begin to affect this quiet region, a faster pace takes over the novel. Lynn is a sharp, perceptive young woman who has led a shelter life after leaving the states with her family and a few others. Lynn doesn’t know much about the life they left behind. There is fear of what lies outside their small community but Lynn still feels that she’d like to venture out to see what she is missing. When new individuals come into their area, they create quite a fury. There’s fear, excitement, answers and questions, for everyone involved. Usually these individuals will pass through without any trouble but there are those who are the exception.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I absolutely loved this book. The author did an amazing job with his descriptions of the life in the North as well as Lynn's thoughts and feelings.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A little formalistic but an excellent read.
    357800 More than 1 year ago
    4.5 Stars. OKAAAY.....SIGN ME UP for the next Tyrell Johnson novel. THE WOLVES OF WINTER is a super-fine debut....available NOW! ............."Everyone has something to hide."............. What you'll find here is a great post-apocalyptic adventure set in a snowy Yukon wilderness....with freezing temperatures....a feisty, smart-mouth protagonist....her expanded family....a "fat-face" creep neighbor, a mysterious man, his cool dog Wolf....and a fight for survival....literally. When the McBride family flee Chicago for Alaska, Lynn's father knows what's coming. As a biologist, he fears the worst....desperate violent people and infection....and he's right. THE WOLVES OF WINTER is a fresh, but scary look at an apocalyptic future with a reality all too possible. The story is very atmospheric, well written and totally engaging throughout. For me (did not seem YA) and was unputdownable. A possible series? Hopefully!
    SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
    The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson is a highly recommended post-apocalyptic novel set in the frozen Canadian Yukon. After the nuclear war and the pandemic flu, Lynn McBride is simply lucky to be a survivor living in isolated log cabins in the Yukon with her mother, brother, uncle, and his friend's son. It's been seven years since they saw another person, not counting the looser Conrad, who lives nearby. The family was originally from Chicago, where her father was a university biologist. Then they fled north to a small town in Alaska when she was 12. At 16, after her father died from the flu and it was clear they had to leave again, they slipped across the Canadian border into the Yukon. Now they live a harsh existence trying to keep fed and warm. When Lynn happens to meet a stranger named Jax with a dog he calls Wolf in the woods, she rashly invites him to their camp for a meal. Jax seems to be hiding something, but he also tries hard to be non-threatening to the small isolated group, who question him and clean up his wounded leg. When a group of men who call themselves traders show up and they are a threat, Jax clearly knows much more than he has told them, and he also makes it clear that he must leave. This sets into motion a chain of events that will affect them all. The Wolves of Winter is an excellent debut novel and a great addition to the post-apocalyptic genre. Lynn is a well-developed main character and strong female lead - the rest of the family are less developed, but fine supporting characters. The story is told in Lynn's voice and she explains what brought them to this place. Jax is an enigma for most of the novel, although readers will learn more of his story by the end. Johnson does an admirable job integrating what they currently do to survive with the story of what happened in the past that led the family to their isolated existence in the Yukon. The weather and the landscape are a harsh setting. The end of the modern world makes their existence in this environment feel even more precarious. While they are surviving, every day holds risks. Add to this the adversaries beyond the harsh location and you have an overwhelming feeling of impending danger. There is an element of science fiction to the plot that I thought worked. Additionally, Johnson does have a few surprises to reveal along the way. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster
    jmchshannon More than 1 year ago
    The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson has a relatively unique approach to the dystopian fiction genre that is not only a welcome surprise but sets it apart from previous novels in the genre. With its stark setting, the surprise approach is not immediately obvious as the story calls to mind various post-apocalyptic stories in which the weather patterns have been permanently altered by global nuclear war.  However, once you move past the familiar setting, you realize that the McBride family are not only people who are trying to survive the new climate and lack of civilization but that they lived in the world before it went to hell. This may not seem like a big deal but in actuality it is a huge one. For, not only do we get the chance to see people living and surviving in new and hostile environs, we see how they have been able to adapt to such changes. This is a first generation story, involving people who remember the Internet and electricity and the modern-day, first-world conveniences we take for granted. While the psychology of such adaptation is not a focal point of the story, Mr. Johnson does provide a fascinating glimpse into the added toll it takes on a person when she can still remember how things used to be through direct memory and not through stories passed down over the years. There is another difference that sets The Wolves of Winter apart from similar stories. There are no children in this post-apocalyptic world. Lynn is twenty-seven, and even the youngest in her group of survivors is a teenager. Mr. Johnson explains some of this through the disease that wiped out who the war did not, but his choice to not include children is telling in its realism. The young and the old are always the first to suffer in times of hardship, and living through a nuclear winter in the Yukon Territory certainly counts as a hardship. It is simply not a time when children could survive or when families could spend time tending to the weak. These two deviations from the norm aside, The Wolves of Winter struggles to rise above other dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories. Lynn might be twenty-seven, an expert shot with a bow, and an accomplished hunter and tracker, but she is a teenager in attitude. As with the lack of children, Mr. Johnson explains away her behavior by allowing her to recognize that she acts that way because her family continues to treat her as a child/teenager. Still, the novel very much has a coming-of-age feel to it that is at odds with the actual age and competence of the main character. The arrival of Jax adds a bit of a twist to the story but that twist is in no way a game-changer. Jax is the means by which Lynn finally flexes her wings and test her boundaries. He brings the action and introduces the enemy, thereby playing the role of the spark that ignites the rest of the novel. He remains fairly one-dimensional in his role throughout, and his behaviors are predictable. His inclusion in the story once the enemy is established provides nothing other than a convenient battle-hardened warrior and potential romantic interest. In other words, he is a cliche. I wanted to love The Wolves of Winter but could not overcome my disquiet at Lynn's immature attitude or the predictable nature of the plot. I wanted more of that pre- and post-apocalyptic mindset clash and the psychological toll such memories would have on survivors who now have to not only hunt for their own food but dress, clean, and prepare it, gather the wood and othe
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and NetGalley for providing me with an e-galley of The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson in exchange for an honest review. Let me start by saying that post-apocalyptic fiction has never been one of my favorite genres. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is well-written in such a way that one can almost feel the cold. This is the story of a world that has all but been annihilated by wars and disease. The few remaining people have migrated to the Yukon and must use survival skills and endurance to stay alive in this rugged environment. Lynn McBride finds herself in the North with her mother and brother and a few other men. Days are spent hunting, gathering wood and water and just trying to keep fed and warm and out of sight till the next day and so on. They are managing to eke out an existence until the day that they are approached by a group of strangers on horseback who want to interfere with their meager way of life. Lynn and her companions find themselves in a fight for their lives and their way of life. The pace of the book effectively creates tension and suspense and keeps the reader totally committed. This is a first novel for Tyrell Johnson and hopefully there will be many more to come. Highly recommended.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is by far my favorite use of the post apocalyptic genre. The sarcastic witty protagonist Lynn manages to be so real i'd thought she was my sister or family friend, so following her through her time in the snowy north and jumping back to hear about her earlier years when things were normal is absolutely perfect. The slowly adds a new pieces to the puzzle, be that more details about Lynn, her family, Jax, or about the world itself and what happened. So that by the end when you finally get everything uncovered it feels so well earned and fun that I guessed some things right but also surprised at what I assumed I knew but was actually totally different. I'd recommend this book to anyone, it balances the mysterious and glower apocalyptic setting with extremely real and grounded endearing characters. With a balance of charming wit to lighten up darker moods this is something I'll probably end up coming back to to get into the wintry mood.