Wednesday, July 28, 2010

wolfsangel by md lachlan is a celtic knot of cause and effect, loyalty and betrayal, nobility & dishonour

Every so often a book comes along that manages to grab the reader by the throat. Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan is one of these. Set in the time and places of the Vikings, Wolfsangel combines history, myth and a coming of age story with great aplomb.
Although peopled with a wide variety of characters who's lives and culture are far removed from the modern day, Lachlan manages to make both his hero and anti-hero approachable.
A Viking king, concerned about the lack of an heir, visits the witches to discover his fate. He's sent off to steal a child, told by the witches that this will be his heir and prince. Instead, he discovers two boy in his raid. By taking both children, the king Authun, begins a series of events that will lead to disaster and death.
Wolfsangel ranges from the time of the children’s birth, jumps to their adolescence and then rapidly moves towards the denouement.
One of the boys, Prince Vali, is being fostered away from his father Authun and is unaware that he has been adopted. The other boy, who is never really named, has been fostered with a "wolf clan" – wild humans who live as animals far from all civilisation.
Vali is shallow and sensitive; he's not at all cut out to be the blood-thirsty Viking his father and the other men would like him to be.
First Vali is sent on a raid, packed in an open boat with a bunch of drugged-up Berserkers; in which he doesn't really acquit himself all that well. Still, he survives, which is something, but manages to make a deadly enemy, one who will come back to haunt him.
And Vali is in love; but with a local farm girl rather than the Princess he's betrothed to, the daughter of his host, a situation his hosting king is not happy with. So, Vali is packed off on a journey to prove his manhood; only to ensure his strength, he involves himself in a ritual.
Unbeknownst to Vali, the ritual opens him up to the machinations of the Witch Queen – the hideous child to whom his "father" had gone.
The Witch Queen is a chilling creation. Lachlan has gone to great lengths to ensure the reader understands how she managed to become the wizened, yet compelling, creature she is. For although her actions seem monstrous, the Witch Queen is in fact merely a child; sold by her family to the witches and molded into a vehicle for magic.
The gods of the Norsemen – Odin in particular – play a great part in Wolfsangel; and although the characters firmly believe in them, readers need not suspend disbelief completely. By setting the book in this period, Lachlan allows for historical veracity. Wolfsangel can be read as a historical novel, or as part of the fantasy or horror genres.
Each "magical" act is somehow explained, even if only by inference, as a natural occurrence. The visions the characters experience can be explained away by deprivation or drug use. In fact, once the "magic" is removed one realises just how desperate were the lives of early humans.
Of course they believed in gods and magic, they didn't really have a choice, they had to believe in something that would explain the deaths, pain and horror of their daily lives.
On his trek to prove himself Vali comes across a "wolf man", one of the wild humans, and manages to capture it. Dragging it back to the settlement, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a raid and attempts to save his love and his friends.
But Vali's farm girl is taken and he finds himself forced to take action, setting out to find her.
In the final third of Wolfsangel, Lachlan brings together all the various storylines, twisting them together to make a somewhat Celtic knot of cause and effect, loyalty and betrayal, nobility and dishonour. The denouement is both sad and inevitable.
Life, as it really is, whether or not you have magic or believe in the gods, really is "nasty, brutish and short". Despite the vain attempts of kings and witches, fate can rarely be changed.

Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.


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