Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Wolf Border.
In a story of great emotional depth, Hall writes of the wolf, a creature of the outer darkness, of geographic success, and of myth and horror, an animal that has been “hunted with every age’s weapon.” Working as a researcher in Idaho’s Setterah Keep, Rachel Caine knows everything about the wolves she so carefully watches. She’s also the perfect candidate to help re-introduce the wolves into the wilds of Cumbria after a nearly five hundred-year absence. A native of Cumbria herself, Rachel is invited to return to this district and the Annerdale Estates, the largest private estate in England, situated just forty-five miles from the Scottish border.
Plunged back into the natural beauty of the Lake District with its moorland, peat, ferns, and “Cambria’s signature aroma,” Rachel meets Thomas Pennington, Annerdale’s current Earl. Pennington wants Rachel to oversee the delicate placement of two of the wolves. British Parliament has recently given him license for such a project, and he’s clearly enthusiastic about the benefits of reintroducing a level-five predator. He even tells Rachel there’s a real chance for environmental restoration in a county that desperately needs it.
What begins as a wary exchange between a powerful, aristocratic land owner and a girl drifting through life blossoms into a real working relationship. Emboldened by the project and by her love of wolves, Rachel gets to work, enlisting the help of Thomas’s daughter, Sylvia, and various other stakeholders. From the wolves' arrival, an event so important that Rachel herself drives to London to meet the cargo flight, to the
oyster-colored skies above Cumbria, to the locals who live in the vast Annerdale Estate, the wolves--once a distant memory and almost mythical beings--become both a
target of love from the country at large and also a source of controversy from local farmers and parents alike.
Smart, intuitive, and dispassionate, Rachel doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She senses a stoic vulnerability in the people around her: Binny, her mother, in a care home after a stroke three years ago, is constantly an “an intolerable weight” around her; her brother, Lawrence, struggling in his marriage while carrying his own personal demons; the officious gamekeeper, Michael, “the last custodian.” In Michael’s mind, the wolves are “faddish,” indicative of Pennington’s contradictions, liberalism, and modernity (or worse--he’s inadvertently sponsoring a return to the dark ages); and Alexander, the local veterinarian who helps Rachel implant tracking devices into the wolves when they first arrive at the Pennington Estate.
Although Rachel is attracted to Alexander, he respects her boundaries while she continues performing the job as contracted--even after her shock and trepidation at discovering that she’s pregnant from an earlier fling in Idaho. Yet earthy, passionate Alexander understands the extent of Rachel’s need for space. Although the wolves are essential, Hall only rarely dwells on the technical aspects of their reintegration. Inch by inch, they symbolically get closer to Rachel, undoing the past or even mitigating it. And just like Rachel, the wolves are unleashed into a world that is flawed yet capable of better. Hall's separate worlds intersect--the aristocrats and politicians, increasingly on edge at the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence along with the wolf border itself with its private sponsorship and antiquated hierarchy.
Hall’s talent is that she can transport us to the beautiful, vast Cumbrian terrains which buttress the story while also providing ample adventure and scenic beauty. A writer of great emotional and visual precision, Hall doesn't resort to cheap moralizing. Instead, she lets Rachel play out her life as a mother like real adults must. Astonishing, courageous, and generous, Rachel and her wolves come together in this place and time, crossing the line (and the border) into a symbolic union that will forever change their lives.