The Promise of the Wolves is the first in a trilogy with an unusual premise: chronicling the life of an ancient wolf pack. Author Dorothy Hearst relates her spellbinding saga through the voice of Kaala, a mixed-blood pup born into the Swift River Pack of the Wide Valley, somewhere in southern Europe approximately 14,000 years ago. Legend says that a wolf whose blood is mixed with that of wolves outside the Valley will "stand forever between two worlds." When Kaala's mother is banished from the pack for mating with an outsider, Kaala, who may be the wolf named in the prophecy, is allowed to stay, though ridiculed by Ruuqo, the pack leader, and tormented by his pups.
Ruuqo repeatedly lectures the Swift River pups about the covenant the Wide Valley wolves made with the Ancients (the Sky, Sun, Moon and Earth) many millennia ago: to avoid humans, never to kill a human unprovoked and to mate only with wolves inside the Valley. Kaala hears his warnings, but her intuition and instinct mysteriously draw her to the humans nearby.
As the moons come and go in Kaala and the other pups' first year, she gradually becomes their designated leader - admired for her willingness to stand up to Ruuqo's harsh treatment and her tenacious loyalty to the weaker pups. Eventually her attraction to humans is tested when, straying afar from the pack, she saves a girl from drowning. Kaala befriends the girl, TaLi, and "her boy" Brelan; they even hunt together, sharing their prey. The pups allied with Kaala follow her lead, choosing humans of their own with whom to bond. Kaala experiences potent and conflicting emotions - she is drawn to the newfound humans, but at the same time deeply mournful, knowing her old world may soon be ending.
Hearst spent 10 years editing books from nonprofit organizations, while simultaneously "trying to be a writer." Her fascination with wolves began in 2001, and once she started writing about them, she says she couldn't stop. Extensive research with the International Wolf Center and lengthy observation of wolves in sanctuaries laid the groundwork for this debut novel, loosely based on the "controversial and contested" theory of the co-evolution of wolves and humans, which maintains that wolves taught the early humans to hunt cooperatively and form complex societies. This moving saga will appeal especially to animal lovers, but all readers will be intrigued by Hearst's unique blend of myth and scientific research, and be left eagerly awaiting the next installment.