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The Tenderness of Wolves Paperback – 8 Feb 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 466 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus; New Ed edition (8 Feb. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847240674
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847240675
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (226 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 193,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stef Penney was born and grew up in Edinburgh. After a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Bristol University she turned to film-making, studying Film and TV at Bournemouth College of Art. On graduation she was selected for the Carlton Television New Writers Scheme and has since written and directed two short films. Her first novel, The Tenderness of Wolves is a world-wide bestseller and prolific award-winner. Stef lives in London.

Product Description


“This subtle and superb novel brings the freezing landscape of the Canadian woods to such vivid life that the landscape itself becomes a strong character within the story. Once you have dived into the tiny, closeted world of Caulfield and its forbidding surroundings, you will certainly not wish to leave.”

“…Stef Penney's hefty first novel The Tenderness of Wolves, mines her setting and period for all it's got and then some, injecting plenty of invented intrigue and Da Vinci Code like revelations of Huge Cultural Importance whenever she can. The result is an entertaining, well-constructed mystery that jazzes up the “real” history in a way that's more Ron Howard than Pierre Berton. It's…sexy, suspenseful, densely plotted storytelling…The Tenderness of Wolves remains a first-rate gripper with a notably sensual as well as psychological understanding of its main characters. More than this, it is a novel with far greater ambitions than your average thriller, combining as it does the themes of Conrad's Heart of Darkness with Atwood's Survival, and lashing them to a story that morphs Ian Rankin…” Andrew Pyper, The Globe and Mail

… a highly-assured debut….Stef Penney has written an absorbing and stylish mystery. The Glasgow Herald

… a quite remarkable debut novel.' Birmingham Post

a tense and delicately written thriller - The Observer

unquestionably atmospheric, evocative and eventually rewarding - Independent On Sunday

From the Publisher

Winner of the Costa Book Award 2007 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

169 of 174 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Craig HALL OF FAME on 12 Feb. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Stef Penney's debut has attracted some hostility from the literary establishment on winning the Costa (formerly Whitbread) prize as Book of the Year,largely because "nobody has read it" and the author researched her subject in libraries rather than by trekking through the wastes of Canada. Well, stuff them. It's a terrific novel, and the judges were absolutely right to prefer it over Boyd's latest or even the charming memoir about a happy East End childhood.

Mrs. Ross, the narrator, is a Scottish pioneer and ex-asylum inmate who discovers the body of a French trapper, murdered and scalped in his house near Dove river. Her beautiful, adopted 17 year old son Francis has disappeared, and so has the victim's money and a piece of bone which may prove the "Indians" had a written culture. A half-breed Cherokee trapper is arrested and beaten up to try nad force a confession out of him, but the magistrate has more compassion than the fur-trading company to whom all are in thrall, and releases him. Mrs Ross and Parker embark on an epic journey, tracking her son and another, fainter set of footprints, across snow and ice. In their wake are more Company hunters, bent on tracking them down...

It is a wonderful story, set in 1867 and featuring an agoraphobic heroine who must overcome her fears (and her growing passion for her guide) to find justice. In many ways it reminded me of Ursula le Guin's masterpiece, The Left-Hand of Darkness, for though this is meticulously researched historical fiction, not fantasy, it shares the same sense of passion and desperation growing on the extreme edges of civilisation. All the characters are well-drawn, and though the narrative switches between first and third person, it is consistently interesting and beautifully written.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By P. G. Harris TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 23 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a strange book, enthralling, with a great deal of beauty in it but also with a number of significant flaws. To start on the positives, the descriptions of landscape are excellent. Also Mrs Ross is an intriguiging character, one gets to know her, but there is also a great deal unknown about her. I may be giving too much credit, but it feels like there is a great deal to her that we don't learn about (rather than her just being shallow). Thirdly the central plot is nicely intricate and well resolved.

On the down side, it just feels as if the author had too many ideas, which, as this was her first novel, she felt compelled to include. There are just too many peripheral characters and subplots which remain unresolved. What is the 'Line' subplot in there for ?. Also the frequent change of narrative voice gives the book an unwelcome fragmentation. Thirdly, probably as a result of the fragmentation, the characters remain rather distant and undeveloped.

On balance I would give this book the thumbs up and say that it is worth buying and reading, but with caveats.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Suzie on 6 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first few chapters of this book failed to capture my interest, but as I read on I became more and more engrossed. Part of the problem was my initial dislike for the main protagonist, Mrs Ross, who seemed aloof and unsympathetic. But as more of her motivations and background were revealed she became someone with whom it was easier to empathise. She was certainly courageous.

Various threads have been cleverly woven into this accomplished first novel, although I agree that the bone tablet seems little more than a distraction. No doubt with more thought it could have had greater relevance. There are a lot of characters, but the author handled her large cast effectively, avoiding any confusion about who they all were.

The ending is perhaps a bit sudden, predictable even (but only late in the book), and although there are some loose ends, they were not left hanging entirely free - there is nothing wrong with being left to imagine what might or might not ensue from the hints and insinuations scattered through the final chapters.

As others have said, one of the strengths of the book is its portrayal of vast snow-covered forests and wilderness. There are other books with an equally strong if not better sense of coldness - Helen Dunmore's 'The Siege' and 'A Spell of Winter', for instance, or Anita Shreve's 'Light on Snow' - but nevertheless, Stef Penney's descriptions are shiveringly realistic.

It is obvious from the other reviews that the book has disappointed some. It isn't perfect, but I can only say that I found it an easy and enjoyable read - and certainly one I would recommend.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By roger james on 1 Dec. 2007
Format: Paperback
A beautifully written book. It cleverly alternates between the story and the narrative told by its heroin Mrs Ross; who in the Canadian winter of 1867 trecked north from Georgian Bay, in search of her missing son.
From Georgian Bay she follows her sons trail through the forest of central Canada and out onto the treeless tundra that stretches north to the frozen Hudson Bay.
But Penney Stef has never visited Canada and clearly has no concept of distance or climate. The Hudson Bay Co territory covered three million square miles -ten times the size of the Holy Roman Empire.
Stef Penny takes them across the tundra to an HBC fort in a couple of days. In a country where it takes three days to drive along the north shore of L. Superior!
Neither does Penney have any concept of winter climate.
The Hudson Bay history records "..great fires burned in the hearths of York Fort.. but made little difference in a climate where quicksilver in the thermometers froze solid".
In contrast Penney's heroin narrates [p246] a blizzard on the freezing tundra "..the tent is gone, the wind is screaming... [the men] light the fire for tea, huddling round with scorching fingers... I watch the men smoking their pipes, a warm and soothing thing". Oops!
An excellent first novel made all the more remarkable by Penney never having been to Canada. But a black mark on 'Quercus' for failing to pick up on some glaring errors that make the story unbelievable.
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