Elna Holst is a chameleon. She’s like a talented forger (albeit with honest intentions), dressing up her writing in the original author’s. In a couple of strokes, she carried me away into Jane Austen’s world with Lucas, and just as easily I just spent a few days in Siberia with Pyotra and her wolf. The way Holst describes the scenery, the sounds, the lights (or lack thereof, in the constant night), the pervasive cold. That last one in particular, the cold, which only highlights how warm Volk (the wolf) is.
Pyotra and the Wolf is a sapphic retelling of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, one of the musical tales I have listened to most, first as a child, then as a parent. I loved all the ways Holst made the story hers. In her version, Pyotra lives in a remote settlement in Siberia. Since wolves killed her mother and sorrow took her father, it’s been her, her grandfather Boris and her much younger brother Sergei. When she arrives home to find a wolf holding her brother’s neck in their jaw, fury takes over and she gets ready to shoot, only to be inexplicably moved by the wolf’s eyes. The wolf runs away and Pyotra goes after it. She finds out soon enough that this wolf is no ordinary wolf.
I’m late to the Elna Holst party. I read one of her Tinsel and Spruce Needles Romance novellas a couple of years ago, which I enjoyed, but I wasn’t wowed at the time. Since then, and in rather quick succession, I’ve read In the Palm, Lucas and now this latest novel, and Holst is now definitely in my favourite authors’ hall of fame.
Each book I read becomes my new favourite. They’re so brilliant I’m not sure I have the words to explain why. They delight me, they disturb me, they make me feel smart. I wrote in my review for Lucas that it made my brain cells dance with joy and Holst did it again.
Both Pyotra and Volk are delightful characters. Pyotra is a badass, a young woman who won’t let fear dictate her life, especially not when it comes to taking care of and protecting her brother. I loved seeing her character grow, question what she thought she knew about life, family, duty. She’s stubborn and driven in the best way, ultimately. Volk is fascinating for completely different reasons. Who would have thought dual personalities, human and wolf coexisting, could be so sexy? That’s another thing I loved about this book, how sensual and sexual it is.
On a side note, as someone with sensory issues, I’ve been very surprised recently – first in Aurora’s Angel by Emily Noon, now in this book (both about shapeshifters) – to realise that an overdeveloped sense of smell can be sexy, like really really sexy.
When they first meet, Volk is in wolf form and I know this will sound weird but the chemistry is already palpable. There’s a reason Volk was close to Pyotra’s house, and it has everything to do with chemistry. As they get to know each other, the chemistry keeps growing, taking many forms. Volk wants Pyotra in different yet similar ways depending on whether she’s in her human body or in her wolf. Pyotra loves both the wolf and the woman.
While the pace didn’t work as well for me in the last third (approximately) of the story and the thrill wasn’t as high, it picked up again towards the end, bringing the story to a close on an ideal high note.
The ease with which Elna Holst plays with the English language fills me with glee. That she does so while telling compelling stories makes it even more perfect.