Wednesday, 26 August 2009

‘Wolfbreed’ – S.A. Swann (Spectra)


I’ll confess straight away to not being as widely read as I sometimes think I am. It’s practically impossible with all the great looking new stuff on the shelves as well as all the other great stuff that has been around for a while that I haven’t had a chance to read as yet. All I can do is to keep on trying! :o) This is really a roundabout way of saying that it has felt to me recently that werewolves have been the sole property of the Urban Fantasy sub-genre; I know that I’m more than likely wrong here so please feel free to leave a comment directing me towards werewolves in sci-fi or fantasy fiction!
It was the way I felt though so it felt like a real change to see ‘Wolfbreed’ come along and offer a slice of werewolf action that takes place far away from the typical urban locale. The premise sounded like an interesting one but it was the story itself that kept me turning the pages and resulted in one of those ‘surprise finds’ that are always great to come across...

When a Teutonic knight unwittingly discovers a nest of werewolf young the Church comes into possession of a devastating weapon in its northern crusade against pagan Prussia. As instruments of God, these creatures are trained to break sieges by infiltrating strongholds and causing havoc. Lilly is the most cunning of them all and now she has escaped...
Udolf isn’t thinking much beyond helping his adopted family make it through the winter; then he discovers a beautiful young woman cowering terrified in the woods. Hiding her from the knights hunting for her seems like the only proper thing to do but what Udolf and his family can’t possibly know is that they have taken an even greater danger right into their very midst. Will Lilly turn on them too...?

You just know that a book is doing something right when you’re reading it on the train and you find yourself at your stop before you know it. This was very much the case with ‘Wolfbreed’; one of the few books that has made me break my own self imposed ‘don’t read while you’re walking’ rule (don’t knock the rule; it has got me out of trouble on more than one occasion!) There’s a blurb, at the back of the book, for the sequel ‘Wolf’s Cross’ and I’m definitely keen to see if Swann maintains the standard that he has set here.

On the face of things there isn’t an awful lot to ‘Wolfbreed’; a werewolf is in hiding and the plot deals with both this and it’s inevitable consequences. Once you dig down a bit however, it becomes a whole lot more...

‘Wolfbreed’ is a surprisingly thoughtful piece about what makes a person human and whether any trace of an animal nature can mean that they don’t have a soul. There’s plenty to ponder here when you see Lilly’s treatment at the hands of the Order and her rehabilitation with Udolf’s family. Swann makes his views on the matter a little too obvious here and this means that the reader can be left thinking purely about what he is saying rather than coming to it completely fresh and making their own mind up. Despite that though, it still had me thinking things over long after I had put the book down.

As I mentioned, the plot itself is simple but Swann infuses it with rich characterisation and tension to make it far more than the sum of its parts. Udolf and Lilly’s growing friendship flows naturally and can be really poignant, especially when you see the twist coming and the hammer start to fall. The twist in the tale felt entirely natural (especially when taken in the context of the novel as a whole) but it felt to me as if it was signposted perhaps a little too heavily. That might just be me though. What matters though is the intensity of emotion that arises from it and where the plot heads as a result. I was hooked already but I found myself hooked a whole lot more, all the way through to fiery climax.

‘Wolfbreed’ is a story about love and redemption that kept reminding me of ‘White Fang’ in a way (the whole ‘wild animal being tamed’ thing). Swann doesn’t let the story run purely on this though and he mixes action, tension and spectacle to come up with a tale to make the heart pump as well make manly types (like me!) suddenly say that their eyes are watering because of all the dust around the place. I know...
The ‘cat and mouse’ element (where Lilly must hide from the knights looking for her) makes for some tense moments and the ingenuity of Udolf’s family, hiding her, in plain sight is very clever indeed. When the chips are down though, Swann is certainly not afraid to get visceral and show his readers exactly what Lilly is capable of. Make no mistake; this is definitely a novel about werewolves!

‘Wolfbreed’ is definitely up there for my ‘surprise find of the year’. If you’re after an engrossing slice of historical fantasy, or if you just like werewolves, then I don’t think you’ll go wrong with this one...

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

8 comments:

simon_hyde said...

Hi Graeme,

Sounds interesting, I'll keep an eye out for it. I've just started on a Dan Abnett 40k book seeing as how you've given the thumbs up on a few and I have to say I'm impressed, what have I been missing for the past 10 years. The whole games workshop vibe put me off, my acne cleared a long time ago, serves me right for being so shallow.

Also a quick thanks for the delivery of the dwarves I won a week or two back.

James B said...

Werewolves, eh? Well, if there are no Zombies then I suppose a few Lyceans will have to do....

bascule said...

OT sorry but I think you'll forgive me.

http://www.blur.com/

Look down the news column on the left and you'll see they've optioned "The Goon" for a movie.

RedEyedGhost said...

I saw a review for this a week ago, and promptly added it to the wishlist. Your review bumped it to the buy in my next order list.

Have you received a of The Werewolf's Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten by Ritch Duncan and Bob Powers? That's another werewolf book that sounds very interesting to me, but I haven't seen any reviews yet.

Graeme Flory said...

Simon - There's a lot of good stuff to be found in the 40K books, glad you're enjoying it! Glad the book turned up ok as well.

James B - I've got my fingers crossed for more zombies very soon!

Bascule - Thanks for that! On this blog, any news of The Goon is always on topic, no matter what the post is about.

RedEyedGhost - Hope you like it! I haven't read 'The Werewolf's Guide to Life' but I am reading something similar about zombies right now...

gaby317 said...

Great review! I loved Jack London's books and am fascinated by werewolves. Thanks for the heads up - will keep an eye out for this book.

ediFanoB said...

Your great review forced me to add the book to my list. For all of you who would like to watch the book trailer and read an excerpt will find links over at Bona Fide: Weekly Roundup.

Anonymous said...

You DO realize that is book is just a novelized version of ElfenLeid, one of my favorite anime/manga in the world. The author herself admitted that Wolfbreed is based off of it. You want a good story? Read the original first.