Wolfsangel is, without a doubt, one of the best novels I’ve read this year!
When I first heard about the novel I gave a loud cheer and air-punch (okay, maybe I was a bit more subdued, but still, I was happy); here was a novel that was bringing together werewolves and vikings and the mix seemed utterly sublime to me. And when I got the ARC I wanted to dive in immediately but other books kept me busy – I did, finally, reach that moment when I thought, ‘Bugger this, it’s time to get into the book’, and I’m really glad that I did.
A word of warning, though – if you’re looking to read about the kind of werewolves we know from movies (being bitten and so cursed to turn into a werewolf at the full moon), Wolfsangel isn’t it. This isn’t even remotely close to the kind of hairy-slasher movie or story that has been the staple of werewolves for too damn long. This is something altogether beautiful and chilling at the same time, evoking a time we cannot even really know (no matter how much is dug up or discovered or inferred from Sagas). So, you’ve been warned.
Anycase, let’s get into what I loved:
The ‘Voice’ of the story; the author used words sparingly, employing short and vivid descriptions that really stuck in my mind. There wasn’t any flowery prose or over-emphasis here – every sentence was tight and beautiful and unfolded at a pace that was, to me, excellently maintained; steady, but never slow when it was needed, and feverish and gripping when it was needed. The author also managed, in my opinion, to walk that line between emotions – some scenes in novels just don’t need as much emotion as other scenes, and the glimmer of emotion can still be used to great effect; the author, I feel, managed this expertly.
The worldbuilding: I wouldn’t really classify Wolfsangel as Epic Fantasy or Heroic Fantasy – to my mind, it’s the kind of book that should share shelf-space with the likes of Jasper Kent (Twelve). You see, the novel takes in a historical setting and although I’m by no means knowledgeable about the Vikings, I’m sure that the author did plenty of research into that past time – their culture came through vibrantly, their beliefs and fears and day-today life, hints as to the philosophies they might have lived by, etc. For example, one of the best pieces in the novel takes place when characters steal a boat – that scene really got me thinking about how I look at people who are poorer than I am; here are a people that don’t exist (as they did) any more, who’s culture has been re-imagined, and instead of the violence and ferocity that Vikings are known for I was instead forced to look at them in an utterly new way. For a novel to pull that off… Well, let’s just say that it really surprised and moved me. And it’s not the only scene, either. But I digress: everything from the way they might have prepared their food to sayings they had to construction techniques, and much more, really brought the Vikings to life for me, and the author managed the same feat with the various other peoples that we meet in the novel. So in and of itself, the worldbuilding is incredible.
Going hand in hand with worldbuilding are the descriptions, and even though the writing is spare and tight, I really could imagine myself in the depthless dark of caves, or sitting among beserks as they chanted themselves into a battle-fury, or sinking under black waters in search of visions. The world that reveals itself in Wolfsangel is utterly daunting but incredibly beautiful – I was reminded of the desolate beauty of the lands inhabited by the clans of JV Jones’ Sword of Shadows series, and the northern sections of Westeros where the Wall reaches toward the sky and the cold is bitter and deadly; or let me amend that – I wasn’t reminded of those books, but the sense of place and sensation that those books, and those authors, managed to evoke. Wonderfully done!
The characterization: Wolfsangel is peopled by many different people, with different philosophies, different intellects, different passions driving them, different ways of reacting under pressure, different ideas of beauty and savagery. Practically every character was exquisitely realized – the witches were creepy and sad and utterly focused; the beserks were menacing and single-minded; but to me, the brothers (the children or babies mentioned in the book’s back-cover blurb) were incredible – two completely different people, brought up in ways that make them so far removed from each other as to make you think that they can’t occupy the same world. The author brilliantly weaved them against each other, so that I couldn’t actually choose between the two – each character had something better than the other, each character managed to be unique and had real weight, real presence behind them. To a slightly lesser degree so did the other characters in the novel, especially the central female character. Her choices made sense to me and I completely sympathised with her, and it was easy for me to see how she could become the centre of the world for someone.
The magic: I’ll quote Simon Spanton here and leave it at that, because I completely agree with him – to even try and talk about the kind of magic in this novel and the way the author uses this magic would be too difficult for me – “And I’d never read magic that was as realistic as the magic in WOLFSANGEL (and I realize that last sentence doesn’t make sense right now but it will once you’ve read the book).” Enough said. 🙂 (But I have to say this – Odin is not some fatherly figure, all fluffly and stern and in command; read up on him and you’ll be scratching your head when you watch ‘Thor’ next year; oh, and Loki is awesome)
Wolfsangel, to me, is a blend of many, many things – it’s an excellent historical novel, a brilliant fantasy, an atmospheric and menacing horror, and a beautiful love story. It’s also the absolutely most awesome take on werewolves that I’ve ever come across, and I’m fully on board for the duration of the series. Barring a total bugger up on the author’s part (which isn’t likely, but the bar has certainly been set very high with this debut), Fenrir will be jumping to the top of the pile as soon as I get my hands on it. I can’t wait to see where the saga is going!
All in all, an incredible debut – MD Lachlan is certainly going to be a voice loudly heard in Fantasy and Historical Fantasy for the duration. 🙂
9 / 10
P.S. For those who don’t know, MD Lachlan is actually Mark Barrowcliffe. 🙂