Thursday, 6 May 2010

Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan

The Viking King Athun, a ruler without an heir, leads a raid on an Anglo-Saxon village, driven by a witch's prophecy that the child he will find there will become the son he has desired for so long. Instead he finds two children, twin boys, one of whom he takes as his own and the other he gifts to the witches. As the years pass, the boys become men, their lives leading in different directions but, inevitably, towards a convergence of interests. The witches have forged a new mystical rune, that of the wolfsangel, and the eternal contest of wills between Odin and Loki has been made manifest in a time of blood, war and slaughter.

Wolfsangel is the sixth novel by this author, although the first genre work (and is published under a pseudonym), as well as marking the beginning of an ongoing series that will revisit different reincarnations of the main characters in different eras (the second book will take place a century later, a later one during WWII). The book has been marketed as a werewolf novel, which is a simplistic definition. The wolf in the story isn't a werewolf in the traditional sense of biting people and turning them into more wolves, but is a more mystical, primal force ripped screaming out of the annals of Norse mythology, drenched in blood and tragedy.

This is really two stories in one (as noted by Adam Roberts in his review). One is a straightforward adventure novel in which the Norse prince Vali embarks on a quest to save his love, Adisla, from pirate slavers, during which he encounters his near-feral twin brother, Feileg, and they become reluctant allies. This sequence features good fellowship, treachery and stirring battles. The other is far more mysterious and threatening, as the gods feud through human intermediaries, witches manipulate kings and are manipulated in turn, and the seeds of a dark curse that will ring down through the centuries are laid. This adds an extra layer of depth to the story and lifts it above being a simple monster novel, although fans of such should enjoy the story as well.

The book is well-written and excellently paced, the author's previous experience clearly showing through in the construction of the prose (though there are a few minor anachronisms), but the double layering of the story is occasionally awkward with the transitions between the two modes coming across as somewhat clunky. Athun's long absence from the narrative also feels it could have been handled better, and a sequence where a character crosses hundreds of miles in territory in just a few hours appears to defy the logic of the story elsewhere established (although it may also be part of the transition from the realistic, adventure mode to the more epic, tragic saga-like feel of the finale).

These are mostly minor issues, however. Wolfsangel (****) is a strong opening novel in the sequence, and has a dark, bloody-minded tone that makes it feel like something genuinely 'different'. The book will be available on 20 May in the UK and on import in the USA.

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