Reviewed by: Steve Aryan
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
The Viking King Authun leads his men on a raid against an Anglo-Saxon village. Men and women are killed indiscriminately but Authun demands that no child be touched. He is acting on prophecy. A prophecy that tells him that the Saxons have stolen a child from the Gods. If Authun, in turn, takes the child and raises him as an heir, the child will lead his people to glory. But Authun discovers not one child, but twin baby boys. Ensuring that his faithful warriors, witness to what has happened, die during the raid Authun takes the children and their mother home, back to the witches who live on the troll wall. And he places his destiny in their hands. And so begins a stunning multi-volume fantasy epic that will take a werewolf from his beginnings as the heir to a brutal viking king, down through the ages. It is a journey that will see him hunt for his lost love through centuries and lives, and see the endless battle between the wolf, Odin and Loki - the eternal trickster - spill over into countless bloody conflicts from our history, and over into our lives. This is the myth of the werewolf as it has never been told before and marks the beginning of an extraordinary new fantasy series from Gollancz.This is the first fantasy novel by MD Lachlan and although I’ve said this a few times recently, he also has a very unique voice in the fantasy genre, and this is certainly not a me-too product in any way. I can’t point to any other fantasy book that I have read and say, Wolfsangel is a bit like that, because it’s a very distinct and disturbing creation.
The story has a strange dream like quality to it, and is an unusual mix of elements including horror, fantasy, Norse mythology, original creative concepts and twisted variations of ideas which I can’t detail without spoiling. King Authun is a man without an heir and following the words of prophecy given to him by the witches of the Troll Wall, mystical overseers who speak to the Gods, he plans to steals a baby boy and raise him as his own. Unfortunately during the raid on a Saxon village he finds two babies, not one, and at this point I realised the story was not going to be predictable. What unfolds is a dark and twisted tale that often seems bleak and brutal, but at the end I was not left feeling disheartened, rather I was enthralled by the events which had unfolded and eager to find out what happened next in the next book.
Prince Vali is raised to become king under the watch of one of King Authun’s chiefs, but he wants nothing to do with power or glory and has no desire to carve up the enemy. He would rather forgo the throne and spend a quite life living in peace with Adisla, a local girl. Unknown to him, his brother Feilig is raised by strangers and then by wolves and a wolf shaman, leaving him feral and half human. The story revolves around these three characters and their fate which each does their utmost to escape. The witch queen of the Troll Wall is a twisted and weird creature, barely human in some regards who manipulates people at a distant with her power and torturous magic. Nothing comes easy to any of the characters. Every bit of happiness is hard won and also every bit of magic is unlike any you’ve probably read about before. There are no scrolls, no incantations or waving of hands. To tap into the runic power the witches brutalise themselves and put their bodies through physical trials until they skirt the edge of madness or plunge into it fully. Some of the most disturbing scenes are not the battles, which are gory and to the point, but rather how the witches and other characters ask the gods for their favour.
The characters are not always likeable, especially Vali, who thinks he is hard done by, but when compared to the life his brother has led it puts his complaints into perspective. After a while I warmed to Vali and felt some sympathy for him because he is trapped by fate and birth into a life he doesn’t want. Most men in the story would jump at the chance to be a leader, receive great wealth and fight in epic battles, but he is actually happy to settle for less. By the time he realises he can’t do whatever he wants it’s too late, his inaction has repercussions as several other people have ideas about what he should be doing and he is pulled in several directions at once. Overall the characterisation is very effective and all of the characters are unique with distinct voices and patterns of dialogue.
Odin, the All-Father and Loki, the Trickster are the most prominent of Gods at play here, but they are not openly walking across the land in human guise as we’ve seen in other books, such as American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Here people pray to them, drown and torture themselves to tap into a small bit of their power and the results are never everything they hoped for. The Gods work from the shadows, manipulating people, unknowingly most of the time, and using them for their own ends and playing a game on a scale we can’t fathom. The world is a giant game of chess to them and we’re all pawns to be used and then discarded.
It’s very clear that MD Lachlan has done his research and if you know your Norse mythology then you will get more out of this as there are signs and portents that point to what is going on. Events are foreshadowed and these are interwoven with mythology into a complex, and what is essentially, an adventure story in some regards.
The book has received a lot of high praise and rightly so. It is a stark, bold and gripping tale about life, love, fate, myths and dark magic. It is also the first in a planned series and I am very curious to see where the author takes it next. The second book in the series, Fenrir, is due out in May this year, so there isn't that long to wait.