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Book Review: Wolfsangel

Wolfsangel

 

by M D Lachlan

 

Pyr (Prometheus Books), 2011

 

When the grizzled Viking king Authun (a Volsung, revered by his men as a votary of the gods and very nearly a god himself) takes a small party to raid an Anglo-Saxon village at the beginning of M. D. Lachlan’s exciting and incredibly promising debut novel Wolfsangel, he’s acting as much from prophecy as politics: the mountain witches who terrify his people have predicted that a baby captured on this raid will be his heir and lead his people. Their bargain is secret – Authun knows he’s brought his men along only to die while covering his escape from the village. The men all die, he escapes – but he finds two babies, not one, and so Lachlan’s gripping story is set in motion.

 

The two boys have intertwined destinies, of course. Feileg, the child Authun gives to the witches, is raised by wolves and becomes almost a wolf himself:

 

By the age of fifteen Feileg saw as a wolf and thought as a wolf, his body hard, his teeth a weapon. The mountain winds tearing through his mind, past-less and future-less, he lived caught in the moment with no more thought than a snowflake on the breeze.

 

Vali, the boy Authun raises as his own, has a more conventional princely upbringing, learning about gold and girls and raiding parties that are always described by Lachlan with a deft mixture of grit and humor:

 

Vali nodded, aware that soon he would be killing his first enemy, or being killed himself. He wished he’d unpacked his sword already. He felt the need to piss and stood to do so. He wasn’t the only one. It was almost a comical sight, ten men weeing over the side in one go, a like number on both accompanying knarrs, as if it were some sort of ritual.

 

But it doesn’t take long for supernatural events to find Vali, and in swift, expertly controlled chapters, he becomes not a wolf-man like his brother but something far more, “the worst of marvels,” as one character calls him:

 

And then he realised that beneath the salt of the sea, the smell of the wet boards and the ropes, he could smell a thousand other notes. Grass, loam, reindeer, trees, drying sand, and seaweed, even a smell so familiar and powerful it almost made him laugh. Wet dog … He could tell by the scent of pine needles that the nearest land lay to his east, away from where the sun was throwing its fog shadows.

 

Lachlan is intentionally pitching his story on an epic scale. Wolfsangel, like Winterbirth, the first volume in Brian Ruckley’s “The Godless World” series which it resembles, is the bloody, unflinchingly violent opening number of a multi-volume fantasy epic, and it casts its bid to do for werewolves what Anne Rice did for vampires. It remains to be seen whether or not the hoped-for droves of readers will flock to the tale. This particular reader certainly will.

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