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Review: Wolfskin, Juliet Marillier

As a young Norseman, it is Eyvind’s ultimate dream to become a Wolfskin, a warrior dedicated to Thor, his life sworn to do the warrior god’s bidding.  As a strong, tall boy, with his older brother a Wolfskin, no one doubts that Eyvind’s dream will come true.  One summer, Eyvind’s brother brings a boy, the younger brother of one of his friends, and asks Eyvind to make him more of a man.  Reluctantly, Eyvind takes this small, strange boy under his wing, teaching him what he knows as he is startled by Somerled’s goals and questions.  Eyvind is so unsettled by Somerled, and so pitying towards the friendless boy, that he even makes an oath of brotherhood to him, sworn in blood.  The disastrous consequences of that oath only become clear on a journey to the Orkney islands, when Somerled’s ambition takes over and Eyvind must fight in a completely new way to save a woman he loves and her culture.

Readers of this blog will surely know that Juliet Marillier is one of my very favorite authors.  This is one of her earlier works and I think lacks something of the polish that she’s acquired over the past few years, but I still loved it.

The beginning of the book was a bit slow and perhaps put me off initially racing through it like I had intended.  The relationship between Eyvind and Somerled is complex and often frustrating; as a reader I wanted to hit Somerled and even Eyvind when he didn’t seem to see the truth of things.  Moreover, the back cover told me that they were going to set off on a voyage, and I basically wanted them to go.  Once they did, I felt the story really started, but also discovered that the slow beginning and building of Somerled’s character is really what made the rest of the book rich, understandable, and fascinating.  Somerled is clearly the villain here, but he is also a multi-faceted character that reveals different aspects of himself to different people.  His relationship with Eyvind is the only way to see what really goes on in his mind.

As ever with Juliet Marillier, I also fell hard for the love story.  She always weaves them seamlessly into a larger plot, giving me virtually everything I want from a big fantasy novel.  Eyvind doesn’t only fall in love.  He also deals with the reality of his life as a warrior, betrayal by his best friend, and learns strength that he didn’t realize he had.  He makes shifts in his thinking and develops as a character remarkably.  Marillier has a wonderful touch with these developments and with character relations.  She hasn’t let me down here.  The plot feels as though it moves very quickly through the last three hundred pages, but it’s all woven up with precision and beauty.  This one lacks the fairy tale feel of much of her other work, but doesn’t fail to be a great story.

Wolfskin was a lovely historical fantasy that I can definitely recommend.  I’m very much looking forward to Foxmask, which picks up with the children of some of these characters some years on.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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