Lilly is one of a litter of werewolf children being raised by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in 13th century Prusa (later Prussia). The wolfbreed, as they are called, are subjected to horrifying abuses and trained to become brutal weapons of war. Their purpose: to help the Order massacre Prussia’s remaining pagan strongholds.
A theological debate rages between the Order and the Church regarding the nature of the wolfbreed. Are they simply animals, soulless but trainable and possibly useful? Or, are they minions of Satan? The one possibility no one considers: human.
When Lilly escapes from her master in the town of Johnsburg, she is taken in by a farm family and treated as an ordinary young woman. Their kindness breaches Lilly’s defenses, and she begins to look at herself through new eyes and to question her upbringing. Her peaceful time with them, however, is not to last. The Church and the Order are hunting her. The horrors within Lilly’s mind may be even harder to escape. Can she forgive herself for the violence in her past, and would those who love her be able to forgive her if they knew everything she’d done?
This is a gritty, violent novel, yet there are themes of love and redemption that are often absent from the grittier sort of fantasy. S.A. Swann shows us the worst that humanity can do, but also the best. The surrounding horrors make the moments of beauty all the more effective.
The story is told through several alternating third-person points of view. The different point-of-view sections often overlap in time, allowing the reader to see the same event from different perspectives. This device works well in Wolfbreed, and all of the point-of-view characters have distinct voices.
I highly recommend this moving and tightly-plotted historical fantasy. It won’t be for everyone; the gore, rape, and child abuse may be off-putting to some. I should also mention that many of the Christian characters are pretty unsavory, which also might not sit well with some readers. These aspects of the story didn’t bother me personally — I felt that they were realistic in the gritty medieval setting — but your mileage may vary. As for me, I loved Wolfbreed. As soon as I finished it, I found myself recommending it to friends, and I’d say that’s a pretty good sign!