Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Book Review: Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan


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"King Authun leads his men on a raid of an Anglo-Saxon village. Men and women are killed indiscriminately but the Viking demands that no child be touched. He is acting on prophecy... a prophecy that tells him that the Saxons have stolen a child from the Gods. If Authun, in turn, takes the child and raises him as an heir, the child will lead his people to glory.

"But Authun discovers not one child, but twin baby boys. Ensuring that his faithful warriors, witness to what has happened, die during the raid Authun takes the children and their mother home, back to the witches who live on the troll wall. And he places his destiny in their hands."

***
 
Wolfsangel begins with a small but perfectly formed novella-length narrative that serves to lift the curtain on the half-breed yet wholly involving species of hallucinatory fantasy and Norse mythology that is its starring attraction. In whispered, reverent tones, it is said that Authun, king of the Northern Vikings, is "descended from Odin, the chief of the Gods," who felt so threatened by his fierce offspring that he "cursed Authun to sire only female children. He could not risk him producing an even mightier son." But the old Viking will have his heir, and so he leads a troop of warriors to a village wherein - according to the witches of the Troll wall - such a creature of Godly lineage exists, there for the taking. And so he takes.

He takes Vali, and into the bargain, he takes Feilig, too; an unexpected twin. A sacrifice, he reasons, if the witches must have one. But the finely threaded destiny of the two raid-born babes intertwines far further than Authun's desperate obeisance. They are separated, one raised royal and the other of the wilds, and yet decades later, something, some powerful force immovable by mere mortal man - be it love, fate, magic or chance - brings Vali and Feilig together. Even then, the games of the Gods are only just beginning.

We have here, simply put, the fantasy debut of 2010. M. D. Lachlan has five novels to his other name, but Wolfsangel marks the author's first blush in terms of genre, and his is an unforgettable arrival. Lachlan weaves a remarkable tapestry of narrative in the first part of this multi-volume epic which, though it stands strong on its own merits, alludes to such great things that the chances are we have the next Peter V. Brett on our hands. In point of fact, one aspect of Wolfsangel - the relatively traditional quest Vali and Feilig join forces to undertake - very much puts one in mind of The Painted Man, though where Brett occasionally came across as amateurish, if utterly beguiling in his enthusiasm, Lachlan's voice and grasp of his novel's onion-skin of a narrative is authoritative, always.

The twins are an involving pair: alien and yet relatable, well differentiated despite their physical and aspirational similarities, Vali and Feilig each come into their own over the course of a journey pockmarked by hardships which twist both characters in interesting ways. Their quest to save Adisla would have made for a fine, if unexceptional fantasy novel in and of itself, but Lachlan has far grander designs, for this is tale of and indeed for the ages. It is but the beginning of a chronicle of "centuries and lives" which will "see the endless battle between the wolf, Odin and Loki - the eternal trickster - spill over into countless bloody conflicts throughout history," and while big ideas are ten-a-penny in genre fiction, Lachlan walks the talk.

Wolfsangel stands alone just fine as a straightforward, mythology-laden quest narrative set against a fascinating world, but what sets it apart as great, rather than merely good, is its ambition. Intermingled with the earthly concerns of Vali and Feilig are disturbing, otherworldly encounters with Gods and monsters alike which truly elevate the scope and imaginative prowess of Lachlan's outstanding first fantasy. In a genre which so often hopes to cater to all comers, and so rarely succeeds, Wolfsangel does the impossible: it is both the beginning of a saga that positively begs to be told and an accomplished and satisfying tale in its own right. Only time will tell what vulpine wonders await the lovelorn beast at the heart of this powerful narrative, but this much I can say for sure: Lachlan makes a fantastic first impression.

***

Wolfsangel
by M. D. Lachlan
May 2010, Gollancz

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1 comment:

  1. Not a Brett fan so the comparison there does little for me. Apart from that, all I am hearing about this book is awesomeness. Please excuse me while I slam it to the top of my "To Purchase" list.

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