M.D. Lachlan brings us a story from the North, where a Prince falls in love with a farmer’s daughter and goes to the far ends of the earth to rescue her from slavery. Vali is the Prince in question, a boy stolen by King Athun under the influence of prophecy. What begins as a straightforward tale of Viking politics and berserker raiding as Vali grows from boy to man becomes infinitely more rewarding — a novel dealing with secretive magic and an everlasting battle between the Gods Odin and Loki.
The strength of Wolfsangel lies in Lachlan’s superlative storytelling skill. He evokes the frozen wastes of the Viking kings. We feel the biting cold, see the bleak wilderness, hear the myths of the Gods. From the very first the characters are larger than life, yet still believable and easy to sympathise with. I particularly enjoyed exploring the twin brothers Vali and Feileg. Their growth and development through the novel is handled excellently, leaving the reader always keen to keep turning pages.
I also appreciated the magical elements of the novel, since they matched tonally with the rest of the novel, being brutal and very dark. The witches have to earn their magic in all manner of unspeakable ways, while the Gods do not bestride this novel as all-powerful beings — rather, they scheme and operate from behind the scenes, especially Loki.
Speaking of Loki, for a character who is barely present in the novel, he steals every page he cavorts across. I would love to see more of the Trickster God in subsequent novels! I loved dialogue such as the following:
You chose imperfection — what could be more perfect? You saw your imperfection was perfection and therefore remedied it by imposing an imperfection on yourself thereby becoming perfect again. The logic is imperfectly flawless.
Some of Lachlan’s prose is honestly beautiful, which is unexpected considering the rather martial nature of much of the book.
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.
What really struck me as I read this novel, in fact, was the remarkable similarity in tone to David Gemmell’s work — and THAT is a compliment as far as I’m concerned. The historical leanings of the book coupled with some fine martial descriptions and a sprinkle of mysticism had me cheering at the idea that finally someone has taken up the mantle of our finest heroic fantasy writer!
I had just two minor disappointments. One of these is that the “twist,” which would have been spectacular had it come upon the reader all unaware, is splashed all over the blurb on the back of the book and is fairly common knowledge for those picking up Wolfsangel. I appreciate the difficulty of keeping something of that magnitude secret once the book picks up readers, but I would have loved to read the novel without knowing about the werewolf slant.
The second is that at times the switch between no-nonsense all-action heroism and dreamlike prose can be a little abrupt. As a reader, it left me wondering a couple of times if I had accidentally skipped pages. The choppy nature was much more evident in the first quarter of the book. By the time I reached the explosive finale, it was smoother and easier to deal with.
I really enjoyed Wolfsangel. Despite the oftentimes dark aspect of the novel, it is anchored by a warm heart — the love story between Vali and Adisla that is destined to echo down the ages — and it is this that kept me reading long into the night. I can’t wait for the next in this series. M.D. Lachlan has penned a winner.