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Book Review

Watch Wolf by Kathryn Lasky has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the “Wolves of the Beyond” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Faolan was born a malcadh -- a wolf with physical imperfections. By clan law, malcadhs must be removed from the clan and abandoned to keep the pack strong. Most drown or are eaten by predators. On the rare occasions when malcadhs survive and return to the pack, they can become lowly gnaw wolves. The most talented and artistic gnaw wolves, who show their skill at gnawing tribal stories onto bones, can earn positions of honor as Watchers at the Ring of the Sacred Volcanoes.

Faolan survived abandonment with the help of his second “milk mother,” a grizzly bear he called Thunderheart. After Thunderheart’s death, Faolan wandered alone in areas called the Beyond and the Outermost. He met an owl named Gwynneth who taught him the ways of the wolves and urged him to rejoin a wolf pack.

Pack life, with its strict rules and hierarchy, was difficult for Faolan. The clan leader, who believed Faolan was more powerful than anyone realized, encouraged the young wolf to succeed. Faolan competed for and won a coveted spot as a Watch wolf.

As book three opens, Faolan and another new Watch wolf, Edme, travel to the places where they were abandoned. This ritual is supposed to remove their curse and shame of being malcadh. Edme is a one-eyed she-wolf and a member of the notoriously cruel MacHeath clan. When clan leaders tell her the location of her tummfraw, or place of abandonment, she feels something is wrong.

As she’s surveying the area, two mean she-wolves bully her. They tell her a tribal secret: Edme wasn’t really born a malcadh. Clan leader Dunbar MacHeath turned her into one, hoping their clan could someday be represented at the Sacred Volcanoes. Edme is confused and angry. She interrupts a clan celebration to confront Dunbar. She learns when the clan leader made her a malcadh by slashing out her eye, her own mother gave him a slash. He still bears the prominent scar.

Faolan and Edme travel on to the Sacred Volcanoes. During one stop, Edme plays with some bear cubs while Faolan is asleep. When he awakens, he panics and rushes her out of the area. Not only is it dangerous to play with cubs, but touching cubs violates sacred pacts between the wolves and bears.

When they arrive at the Volcanoes, they meet with the leader, called the Fengo. Edme confesses that she was not born a malcadh. The Fengo says her skill and bravery have still earned her a place on the Watch. He is distressed to learn the MacHeaths would stoop to disfiguring one of their own. He says they must be punished.

Another Watch wolf, Banja, is a one-eyed she-wolf like Edme. She dislikes Edme and treats her badly on a number of occasions. Faolan and Edme train in their new positions and learn how to perform amazing jumps. Edme notices Faolan keeps speaking in the language of “old wolf” without realizing it. He also seems to know things about wolf history and rituals that he has never learned.

When the MacHeaths learn the Fengo intends to discipline them, they concoct a plan. One of the MacHeath spies saw Edme playing with the bear cubs. The MacHeaths decide to kidnap a cub. They know this will start a war between the wolves and the bears. They snatch a bear cub named Toby and put him in “the pit” with Old Cags. Old Cags has the foaming mouth disease, so he’s relegated to the pit forever. The MacHeaths often put misbehaving pups in with him, where they either die or are scared straight by the crazy, diseased wolf.

Faolan and Edme worry because the rest of the Watch wolves have been in secret meetings. Faolan catches a young owl named Arthur who has flown into the Volcano area on a dare. Arthur says he saw the MacHeaths kidnap Toby. Faolan and Edme interrupt the Watch’s secret meeting to relay the news. They say they believe they can find the cub.

The Fengo and the others know the bears are furious and that their two newest Watch wolves may be their only hope for stopping a war. Faolan and Edme, aided by Arthur, leave immediately for the pit. From the air, Arthur can see the bears and wolves gathering. The bears are preparing to attack.

Faolan and Edme find the pit. Arthur flies at the foaming mouth wolf and sacrifices himself so the others can rescue Toby. Just as the war is beginning, Faolan and Edme return Toby to his mother. A wolf clan called the MacNamaras includes many powerful she-wolves who have escaped from the MacHeath tribe. Their leader urges her warriors to remember their real enemy is not the bears but the troublemaking MacHeaths. One she-wolf saves the life of the Great Bear in the early stages of battle. When the bears see that Toby has returned, they speak with the wolves and sort out the misunderstandings. The MacHeaths are driven from the Beyond into the Outermost, but not before Edme kills Dunbar.

Faolan and Edme return to the Watch. A wolf witch called the Sark of the Slough comes to take Faolan on a journey. Gwynneth the owl also joins them. They lead him to the MacNamara clan where his birth mother lies dying. Faolan gets to meet her and tell her about his life. She expresses her deep love and pride in him before she dies.

Faolan looks into the sky and is glad to see her spirit ascending to the Cave of Souls. He’s even more excited when he sees Thunderheart going behind her and finally allowing herself to rest in peace. He believes this proves the animal heavens are all one and that he will see Thunderheart again.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The superstitious wolves believe in many prophecies, hexes and omens. Malcadhs are considered cursed. When strange, snowy weather occurs in the Beyond, Edme easily convinces the MacHeaths that it is tied to their bad behavior. Wolf clans honor and worship Lupus, the Great Wolf of the spirit world. He has set an order for them to follow on earth. They believe time and space are infinite, and there are many universes in the endless cycle.

In the pit, Toby prays to the bear god Ursus for help. When wolves die, they take the starry path of the spirit trail to the Cave of Souls. Owl heaven is called Glaumora. After Arthur dies, Faolan wonders if owls have spirit guides to help them get to the next world. Faolan hopes the heavens are all one with no borders so he can see Thunderheart again in the afterlife.

He wants to make a pile of bones from which Thunderheart’s spirit can leap to Ursulana, or bear heaven. He tries to urge Thunderheart’s spirit to go to Ursulana. He feels she hasn’t yet because some animals won’t move on to the spirit world until their work on earth is done. The animals frequently use the names of their spirit animals where a human might use the Lord’s name in vain or in exclamation.

Gnaw wolves have an opportunity to guard the Ring of the Sacred Volcanoes if they are skilled at their craft. Some animals are mentioned evolving over thousands of years from having legs to having wings. A wolf witch called the Sark of the Slough helps reunite Faolan with his birth mother. After Faolan’s mother dies, he sees the shimmering vapors of the spirits of both his birth mother and Thunderheart as they head for the afterlife.

Authority Roles

Dunbar MacHeath leads the notoriously cruel MacHeath clan. The MacHeaths abuse their she-wolves. Dunbar slashes out Edme’s eye in hopes that his tribe will gain a position in the Watch. Edme’s mother fights back by slashing Dunbar, but she is killed for doing so. The Fengo at the Sacred Volcanoes provides wise and judicious leadership when faced with a rogue clan and the potential for war.


The animals frequently curse using oaths unique to their species. These curses sometimes involve invoking the name of their spirit animal. The word butt appears several times and a-- appears once. The violent MacHeath clan brutally kills two she-wolves for telling Edme the truth about her malcadh status.

They keep an old wolf with the foaming mouth disease in a pit and send him pups that misbehave. Some die there. Others survive but go crazy. After the MacHeaths kidnap Toby, they leave him in the pit. Old Cags kills Arthur while Faolan and Edme are rescuing Toby.

Wolves recall how Dunbar MacHeath slashed out Edme’s eye to make her a malcadh and how Edme’s mother fought back by giving Dunbar a large scar. Edme attacks Dunbar. She rips his flesh around the scar until she punctures his life-giving artery and causes it to spurt blood.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Primal behavior: While the animals in the story display unique personality and character traits found in humans, they also act on instinct. They kill other animals for food. They mate. They abandon malformed pups. They bite one another. Even in respectable clans, higher-ranking animals sometimes treat their underlings with less respect or dignity to maintain the natural order.

Intoxication: The MacHeath wolves purposely get drunk on the nectar from a type of flower.

Misogyny: The MacHeath wolves are harsh and abusive to their she-wolves, so many females escape and join the highly respected MacNamara clan. The MacNamara chiefdom is a wise, kind female, and the clan has a large number of she-wolves. Many she-wolves learn a special language that offers words of affirmation to females. This helps them emotionally combat the disparaging messages from the MacHeath males.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 14


Kathryn Lasky






Record Label



Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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