Nancy K. Wallace – Before Winter

As rumors of Devin’s death at his own bodyguard’s hands reach the capital, the Chancellor is detained on fabricated charges of treason, which may cost him his life. In the provinces, there are signs of people fighting to reclaim their history – but the forces against them are powerful: eradicating the Chronicles, and spreading darkness and death. 

Accompanied by a wolf pack and a retinue of their closest allies, Gaspard and Chastel must cross the mountains in a desperate attempt to save the Chancellor before winter makes their passage impossible. But the closer they journey towards Coreé, the clearer it becomes that there are those who don’t intend for them to arrive at all. 

Nancy K. Wallace’s The Wolves of Llisé series has gained a resonance with current affairs that Wallace perhaps hadn’t expected at the time when she started the story. Its central themes — showing that information is power, (mis)information is a tool, and truth is malleable — are eerily relevant today. Wallace also shows that there is a subversive power to storytelling, one we should cherish and not fear to wield. With Before Winter Wallace brings this trilogy (the previous books were Among Wolves and Grim Tidings) to a close and she does so with panache. 

We return to the story after a whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of the last book and much of the beginning of the story deals with the fall out of that event. The bonds that were forged over the previous books are shattered and rebuilding lost trust is hard, but we see how Marcus works to regain Devin’s. The pervading sense of distrust from the last book, where Devin truly didn’t know who he could trust, slowly abates in this one and by the final third the true nature of the antagonists has crystallised.

Before Winter is the book in which Devin and Gaspard truly grow into young men. I really liked how Wallace developed both of them, which their growth not being a straight line, but one with stops and starts and sometimes, especially for Gaspard, doubling back on itself. Because we are in Devin’s head we see his growth from within, while we can only guess at Gaspard’s inner life from Devin’s observations and the conversations he has with Gaspard. Central to both of their turmoil is their relationship to their father and how this blood bond shapes their identity and perhaps their future. In that sense Gaspard’s journey is the harder one, because it is hard to admit, even if only to yourself, that your family is less than honourable and even harder to fight free from that.

All of that is of course complicated by the discoveries Devin makes about the history of Llisé and the origins of the current political unrest. The depth of its roots and their connection to Gaspard’s family are surprising. We also learn more about the history of Llisé and even discover the origin story of the country and the secrets of both the Chastel and Aucoin family. The party travel via underground tunnels kept safe by the Church, but they also encounter somewhat supernatural elements that assist them on their way. I liked the understated magical elements of the world building. It’s not showy and flashy, but it is unmistakable and I really enjoyed it.

I missed the female protagonists a bit with Madama Aucoin and Angelique being of screen for a lot of the book, though they do play large roles at critical points in the narrative. Devin discovers that his ties to Madame Aucoin and Angelique are closer than he suspected and in the original plan to rescue Devin’s father Angelique will play a central role in defeating the usurper Forneaux. And of course there is the lost Jeanette. I liked how Wallace resolved that situation, though I’d rather suspected it all along and as such it wasn’t really a surprise. However, while in the first book I didn’t really feel the romance, this time I certainly did. Still, I would have liked to have seen more of the ladies and have them take a more active role.

In all, Before Winter was a very satisfying ending to a wonderful series. Wallace resolves the main mystery in the series tying off loose ends, but with Devin’s new position, there is an opening for far more adventures in Llisé. I really hope she’ll get to tell them, because I’d love to see more of the characters, of Llisé, and its surrounding countries. If you haven’t yet picked up this series, I highly recommend you do so, because The Wolves of Llisé deserves to be more widely read and talked about.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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