Poetry Shelf reviews YA fiction: Eileen Merriman’s Black Wolf

Black Wolf, Eileen Merriman, Penguin Books, 2021

I gobbled up the first book, Violet Black, in Eileen Merriman’s The Black Spiral Trilogy, in two greedy sittings. The book has suspense, gritty characters, vital borders between good and evil, porous ethics, romance. When I closed it I felt bereft – knowing how long I had to wait to read the next volume.

Aotearoa is rich in YA writers, writers who delve into the point of view of teenagers, and who navigate contemporary circumstances that challenge both at the level of the personal and an onslaught of ideas and decision making. NZ Bookshop day is coming up this Saturday and I am dreaming that everyone who can afford it will order a local book. Wishing for this. More than ever publishers and booksellers need our support. Let’s celebrate YA fiction, such a magnificent genre.

I recommend getting hooked into Eileen’s gripping trilogy. I read the second book, Black Wolf, in two days. And again I felt bereft when it ended and, in the same breath, utterly satisfied with the rollercoaster, heart-pounding story arc. Phoenix and Violet have become experimental subjects of The Foundation after having caught a mysterious virus, M-fever. They are under the control of The Foundation because they acquired super gifts, the key one being able to communicate telepathically. The rest of the world thinks they are dead. Other subjects die or are decommissioned. They resolve to fight for what is right.

On the one hand this is a struggle of good versus evil, but even more compelling, it is the interior struggle of two teenagers wanting to make good choices, wanting to care for fellow human beings, to work for the good of the whole rather than the benefit of the greedy individual. This is not easy. Being a teenager is not always easy. There is unbearable kindness. There is sex, there are drugs, there is romance. Relationships to unravel. There is mystery. The medical issues and implications.

Eileen’s sentences flow like honey. The dialogue is pitch perfect. I care so much about the characters I woke at 2 am, after the first day’s reading, plotting what might happen next. Worried for everyone!

Reading this book lifted me out of the black hole that keeps dragging me down. So sweetly. So rewardingly. I don’t want to go giving everything away – you just need to find a comfort corner and board the exhilarating ride with its spiky twists and turns, gathering in strength, kindness, empathy. Three qualities we need in our collective response devices, in our own challenging virus-stoked times.

I toast this glorious book. It was just what I needed. Oh and the final volume is out 1 March 2022.

Eileen Merriman’s first young adult novel, Pieces of You, was published in 2017, and was a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and a Storylines Notable Book. Since then, she has published another nine novels for adults and young adults and received huge critical praise, with one reviewer saying: ‘Merriman is an instinctive storyteller with an innate sense of timing.’ In addition to being a regular finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, Merriman was a finalist in the 2021 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and Moonlight Sonata was longlisted for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction 2020. Editions of some of her young adult novels have been released in Germany, Turkey and the UK and three have been optioned for film or TV, including the Black Spiral Trilogy.

Her other awards include runner-up in the 2018 Sunday Star-Times Short Story Award and third in the same award for three consecutive years previously. She works as a consultant haematologist at North Shore Hospital.

Penguin page

Eileen’s website

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