by Juliet Marillier
Published by Tor Books
736 pages, 2004
Viking History into Fantasy
Reviewed by Robert Lightbody
Within the pages of her new novel, Juliet Marillier -- who previously wrote the highly praised Sevenwaters trilogy -- takes time-honored themes of friendship, love, honor, rivalry and betrayal and intricately entwines them into a powerfully gripping historical fantasy that is set against a backdrop of the Viking world and their colonization of the Scottish islands of Orkney. Although Wolfskin drops into the fantasy arena, it is not your traditional swords'n'sorcery fare and the more fantastical elements in the book are kept to the barest minimum. If you're expecting a slam-bang book of wizards, elves and epic good versus evil then you're reading the wrong book. However if you are looking for very real human drama, inspired by events from our own history, keep reading.
Wolfskin follows the destinies of its three central characters -- the Viking warrior Eyvind, would-be king Somerled and priestess Nessa -- whose lives become inexplicably linked. Eyvind has grown up in a small Viking community dreaming of becoming a Wolkskin warrior of Thor, like his brother. One winter on a brief visit Eyvind's brother delivers the task of befriending the strange boy Somerled he has brought with him, the brother of nobleman Ulf. Although at first they are the unlikeliest of companions and Eyvind often fears Somerled's cruel and capricious nature, circumstances draw the boys together in friendship and they eventually swear their lifelong brotherhood with a god-sworn blood bond -- for better or worse.
Eyvind's destiny runs true to course and he becomes the Wolkskin he always dreamed of, whereas Somerled finds a place for himself as a courtier. Events draw the pair back together and they find themselves on a journey that will take them both far from their home to the mysterious Light Isles that lie in the distant Western Sea. On the islands they discover a race of strong and proud people and encounter the mysterious priestess Nessa, an encounter which will change all of their lives.
Drawing on her painstakingly researched knowledge of this period in history Juliet Marillier paints an alternative picture of the Viking world, a world that we are used to seeing portrayed as simply one of a savage and rampaging race that conquered with violence and fear. And although there is certainly truth to this belief, within the pages of Wolfskin, the Viking culture is painted with rich insight and a world is revealed that is steeped in tradition, honor, brotherhood and a strong belief in their pantheon of ancient pagan Gods. Marillier also uses her storytelling craft to create the race of people who inhabited ancient Orkney -- of which little is known -- and imbue them with a culture and way of life that is as rich as their Viking counterparts. A world I hope we learn much more of in the future. | September 2004
Robert Lightbody is an entertainment journalist working in London, who writes for magazines around the world. He likes books that stoke the imagination and leave you with that "something special" long after you have read the last line.