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Book Review

Shadow Wolf by Kathryn Lasky has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the second book in the “Wolves of the Beyond” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In Lone Wolf, a young, pack-less wolf named Faolan became a member of the MacDuncan clan. As a malcadh, or a wolf born with an imperfection, Faolan is now relegated to the lowly position of gnaw wolf. Gnaw wolves gnaw (sculpt) tribal stories into bones. They also must perform submissive tasks for other clan members and rarely get anything but scraps after the rest of the tribe has eaten.

The strict patterns and rules of pack life are difficult for Faolan to accept and remember. When the wolves go on a hunt, Faolan chases the herd the way he might have as a lone wolf, without considering the pack’s hierarchy. His rogue behavior angers the pack and makes them lose the animals they were tracking. A young she-wolf named Mhairie is particularly angry. She had hoped this hunt would be her opportunity to shine.

Faolan is forced to apologize to all of the clans for his rebellious behavior. This punishment includes whining submissively, crawling on his belly and listening as each clan reads the story bone about his insubordination. He gains a bit of hope when the dying clan leader, Duncan MacDuncan, orders a gaddergnaw.

This is a contest in which gnaw wolves compete to be Watchers at the Ring of the Sacred Volcano. Watchers guard the precious Ember of Hoole, which is embedded in one of the craters. Duncan believes Faolan possesses the necessary skills to win. He dies, and the wolves howl him up the star ladder to the Cave of Souls.

Faolan watches the common ritual of an Obea wolf taking a malcadh pup from the camp and leaving her to die. He thinks about trying to rescue the pup, but he doesn’t. He knows this practice ensures the clan will remain strong. He recalls how an Obea left him to die because of his splayed paw, and how the great bear Thunderheart nursed him back to health.

He begins to wonder again about his birth mother and how she must have felt when he was taken from her. Faolan visits a wolf witch called the Sark of the Slough to see if she knows anything about his mother. The Sark makes potions to help grieving she-wolves forget their malcadh pups. The mother of the pup Faolan was watching is recovering in the Sark’s cave. The Sark doesn’t give Faolan any information, but seeing the grieving she-wolf makes him even more anxious to find his mother.

An owl named Gwynneth, who helped Faolan rejoin the wolves in the first book, also sees the abandoned pup. As she gets closer, she senses a wolf. It is brutally killing the pup, causing great agony. By the time Gwynneth arrives, the pup is dead. While she knows these pups are supposed to die, compassionate animals wish to see malcadhs die quickly and painlessly. Only an evil creature kills like this.

A she-wolf named Morag is Faolan’s mother. She now has a new mate and pups. She has tried to forget the silver malcadh who was taken from her. Nevertheless, the memories of him have started to return. She is also growing weaker, and her sight is failing. She tells her new mate about her malcadh pup and the painful memories.

He agrees to go with her to visit the Sark, hoping the witch can heal Morag. Even though the Sark knows Faolan, she makes no attempt to reunite him with Morag. She feels it is better for each of them not to know about the other.

Faolan returns to the place he’d seen the pup and finds evidence of a horrific death. He begins to gnaw on one of the pup’s bones, hoping to record the story of the young life cut short. He stops when he realizes he can’t tell the whole story yet. He starts to carry the pup’s bones to put them safely with Thunderheart’s paw bone. When he returns, the bone on which he had begun gnawing the story is gone.

Gwynneth goes to the Sark to tell her about the murdered pup. Together, they strive to solve the crime. The Gaddergnaw Games begin. Faolan and the other contestants participate in competitions — hunting and gnawing stories on bones. A falsely humble wolf named Heep is determined to destroy Faolan’s chances of joining the Watch. When Heep discovers a gnawing sound he makes with his teeth drives Faolan crazy, he uses it to throw Faolan off in competitions. Mhairie and her sister, Dearlea, become Faolan’s allies as he progresses in the contest.

Heep strives to secure his position and destroy Faolan by accusing Faolan of killing the malcadh pup. He even produces the story bone Faolan had begun to gnaw for the pup. Faolan begins his rebuttal, but the angry wolves are prepared to tear him apart for such an evil act. The Sark arrives and proves Faolan’s innocence. She also shows that Heep himself was the murderer.

Heep escapes. As the tribal leaders are awarding Faolan and another wolf positions on the Watch, Gwynneth sees Heep and two other wolves sniffing near where Faolan has buried Thunderheart’s paw bone. She knows how much the bone means to Faolan and hurries back to let him know. The wolves organize to capture Heep, but Faolan runs ahead.

He exchanges words with Heep. Then the spirits of important wolves from long ago appear to support him. Terrified, Heep and the other two wolves run to the far country known as the Outermost.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The superstitious wolves believe in many prophecies and omens. One prophecy mentions an event that would completely restore the bodies of all malcadhs. Wolf clans honor and worship the Great Wolf of the spirit world, Lupus, who has set an order for them to follow on earth. They believe time and space are infinite, and there are many universes in the endless cycle.

As Faolan recalls Thunderheart, he thinks of the bear god, Ursus, and the bear heaven, Ursulana. When wolves die, they take the starry path of the spirit trail to the Cave of Souls. This is mentioned frequently in reference to the deaths of Duncan MacDuncan and the murdered pup.

Gnaw wolves have an opportunity to guard the Ring of the Sacred Volcanoes if they are skilled at their craft. A wolf witch called Sark of the Slough makes potions to help mothers of malcadhs forget their lost children and prepare their wombs for more pups.

She and Faolan each pray to the Great Lupus. Some wolves initially wonder if Faolan is from the Dim World, or Wolf hell, because he gnaws so artfully. The spirits of wolf ancestors appear to Faolan and others. Duncan MacDuncan believes Faolan may have powers that allow him to see the future by staring into fire.

Authority Roles

Clan leader Duncan MacDuncan sees Faolan’s potential and encourages the young wolf. He sees beyond Faolan’s propensity to get into trouble. The Sark uses her healing potions to help the she-wolves of the tribes, though she doesn’t belong to a tribe herself. Morag finds herself longing for her lost malcadh and goes to the Sark for help.


Wolf curses, such as “frinking” appear occasionally. The animals use the names of their spirit animals in the same way a human might take the Lord’s name in vain or in exclamation.

A malcadh pup is brutally murdered, her body ripped apart by a predator. Characters repeatedly note how the pup would have died slowly, in unimaginable agony. Faolan kills a buck, embedding his claws, tearing at the life-giving artery and producing blood.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Primal behavior: While the animals in the story display unique personality and character traits found in humans, they also act on instinct. They kill other animals for food. They mate. They abandon malformed pups. They frequently talk about scat and urine, as that is how they track other animals. They bite one another. Higher-ranking animals in a pack sometimes treat their underlings with less respect or dignity to maintain the natural order. When Faolan defies the natural order, it is considered a blasphemous act. One tribe is known to maim young pups on purpose in hopes of gaining a place for their clan in the Watch of the Sacred Volcanoes.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 14


Kathryn Lasky






Record Label



Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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