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Twelve-year old Nat Carver’s well-meaning but eccentric inventor father has piled up some unpaid loans and skipped the country to join a circus in Europe. This has left Nat and his mother Jude with no choice but to move to Temple Gurney, a village in southwest England, to live temporarily with Nat’s grandparents.

At Temple Gurney, Nat has been trying to settle into a new life with his grandmother Apple, so named for her round and rosy appearance, and his grandfather Mick, who wears “eight silver earrings in his left ear” and has a shaved head that he often covers with colorful hats. Mick even has a long, wispy beard that he braids and sometimes dyes purple. Apple and Mick are not your typical grandparents; for one thing, what was the strange potion that kept Apple’s lawn lush and green even through a local ban on watering the lawn during a heat wave? And then there was the odd concoction that she gave wounded birds before rehabilitating them into the wild that seemed to help them not only fly better, but actually make them look bigger.

Nat desperately wants a puppy to keep him company, but the dog he finally gets --- a snaggle-toothed, ginormous beast named Woody with spooky orange eyes and crusty, hacked-off fur --- is not quite what he had expected to pick out. But Nat is quite sure that he has saved Woody’s life by selecting him for a pet. He is further convinced that Woody telepathically communicated the message to Nat that the farmer who owned him was planning to drown the dog if Nat did not pick him. But dogs can’t communicate by telepathy, can they?

Nat is in for the shock of his life when his new friend turns out to be not a dog at all, but a shape-shifting young wolf that sometimes turns into a boy his own age. Woody is a Wolven, a werewolf out of legend, born of a royal breed that served as the king’s own heralds in times of war, dating back to the Crusades. In fact, Woody’s Wolven ancestors had taken part in battle by the side of Richard the Lionheart himself nearly a thousand years ago.

But now Woody is the last of his kind, hunted by a malevolent monstrous being who wants to use Woody in a sinister government project to create a new breed of biological weapon.

The same crazed beings who took the lives of Woody’s parents during their twisted experiments are now coming for Woody and Nat, who find themselves caught up in a thrill-a-minute adventure that takes them from country fairs (where Woody does not win the prize for dog with the “Most Appealing Face” in the dog show) and fairy tale castles filled with magical books to subterranean labs where mad scientists perform diabolical experiments on humans and werewolves alike. They are ably aided in their attempts to evade and defeat their pursuers by Nat’s grandparents, who it turns out have been hiding secrets of their own; the young and beautiful shape-shifting werewolf Crescent; and the mysterious and powerful Iona de Gourney.

WOLVEN is an enjoyable adventure with plenty of silly and sly humor, twists and turns to keep a reader on the edge of one’s seat, and an engaging plot. The central characters of Nat and Woody are likable and entertaining, and the evolving relationship between them is funny and endearing. The supporting cast of characters is made up of eccentric and interesting people (and wolves) one hopes to see again in a sequel. In WOLVEN, first-time author Di Toft has created a clever and original twist on the classic tale of a boy and his dog.

Reviewed by Usha Reynolds on August 1, 2011

by Di Toft

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2011
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Chicken House
  • ISBN-10: 0545171105
  • ISBN-13: 9780545171106