Review: Frostbite by David Wellington

Review written by Jess Peacock

What is it about werewolves? In the early-80’s, some of the first cinematic horrors I was exposed to was An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. We could spend hours debating which was the better film (coughthehowlingcough), but this is a lit review, not a fanboy forum on Aint It Cool News. I simply draw attention to these movies in order to illustrate how lycanthropes have never quite grabbed the pop culture imagination since John Landis and Joe Dante’s cinematic one-two punch of 1981. Yes, books have been written, and yes, there have been other movies produced, however the werewolf often stands envious of the attention granted to its genre cousins the vampire and zombie.

This lack of adequate consideration for the werewolf mythos is unfortunate, if only due to the fact that David Wellington’s stellar novel Frostbite probably won’t receive the proper diligence it deserves. After redefining both the walking dead and the undead with Monster Island and 13 Bullets respectively (in addition to their sequels), the author has turned his razor sharp prose to the criminally underrepresented lupines.

Set in the vast Northwest Territories of Canada, Frostbite wastes little time as it plummets into a world of survival, redemption, and forgiveness. Chey, the protagonist, is resolute in her determination to track down the man/wolf who violently ripped her father to pieces before her adolescent eyes, setting the young heroine on an emotionally aimless course through life. That is until she is offered an opportunity for revenge.

As is often the case with Wellington’s stories, the plot of Frostbite, while superbly effective, is incidental next to the intense characterization of not only Chey, but also Powell, the alpha wolf who has spent more than a lifetime searching for a sufficiently isolated home to veil himself from civilization. It is through their stories that the author deconstructs the typical Manichean good versus evil dynamic of the werewolf, and reveals the devastating toll that the curse takes on its victims.

As for the rendering of the actual werewolves, they are a uniquely supernatural creature manifesting in a type of spiritual transformation, emerging as a separate conscious being with all the fury and power of nature’s wrath thrown in for good measure. Rather than the oft utilized trope of the werewolf representing the primal state of man, these wolves simply stand alone, with a remorseless desire to be free, to be forever wolf. More akin to the prehistoric dire wolf, Wellington imbues his creations with an intelligence and ferocity that overwhelms the humanity of the cursed whenever the moon rises.

Frostbite is breakneck in its pace, frenetic even in its more casual moments with the ever present underlying ticking clock of nightfall. Furthermore, the narrative perspective of the fully transformed wolf is breathtaking in its descriptive palate, cognizant, yet predatory and instinctual in its fragmented style.

The first in a series (Overwinter premiers in September), Wellington has successfully laid the groundwork for an epic werewolf legend. Mythological in its scope while grounded in an organic reality that provides depth and weight to the proceedings, Frostbite is an exhilarating, gruesome, and enthralling literary creature feature for modern horror fans.