Aleksandra Ross’s debut novel Don’t Call the Wolf is a lush, atmospheric, Polish folklore-inspired fantasy, featuring a golden dragon, dark magical woods, and a shapeshifting queen.
While the world of this story is enchanting, full of dark, whimsical, and horrifying monsters, the constant flashbacks and a primary focus on the world building rather than character development cause the pacing to drag its heels and keep the reader from developing a strong bond with the main leads.
The story follows a young queen, named Ren. Ren, who is part lynx and part human, can shapeshift at will. She is the sole protector of her forest, keeping evil from devouring her domain, whether it be by the hand of monsters or the human villagers. However, for Ren, the greatest evil of all is the Golden Dragon who took over the mountains, driving the humans out, and is now moving on to the forest.
One day in the woods, Ren saves the life of Lukasz, the last member of a family of dragon slayers known as the “Wolf Lords.” All of his brothers, except for himself, have disappeared on the quest to destroy the Golden Dragon and reclaim their homeland in the mountains. He is looking for the last brother that had just disappeared a few months ago.
Ren and Lukasz strike a tenuous deal—Ren will help Luskaz find his brother if he kills the Golden Dragon. But promises are easily broken.
There is no doubt that the author is talented. Ross’ world building is sharp and filled with whimsy. The monsters are terrifying and so strange that they’re beautiful. Her ability to describe anything in vibrant detail, from a magical, enchanted forest to a character’s death as gruesome as a hack-and-slash horror, is impressive. Honestly, it is too good. Everything is described in such detail that the pacing suffers fairly heavily, but the copious descriptions aren’t the only culprit.
One of the main characters, Lukasz, has constant flashbacks to his past every other chapter. These flashbacks give insight into Lukasz’s character and his brothers. Yet, the constant switching back and forth in time stalls the forward momentum of the story. The character should be able to speak for themselves in the present, without the need for constant, chapter-long, info dumps. It can be frustrating to be propelled backwards when you want to see how Lukasz and the others are going to react in the present situation.
With that said, if you have an interest in Polish folklore, or love detailed, fantasy worlds with whimsical monsters and characters, then Don’t Call the Wolf may be the story for you.