Wednesday 6 January 2010

Book Review: Juliet Marillier - Wolfskin

After finishing off Marilliers “Sevenwaters” quartet, I thought that was it for me for this writer, until Kooky Little Sister started singing the praises of this book.

This is the story of the Norse invasion of the Orkney Islands off of Scotland’s northernmost end.
Eyvind is a Norse “berserker”, or fearsome warrior, called a Wolfskin for the pelt worn by all those who attain this honour by slaying a wolf with their bare hands. Loyal to his “Jarl” or Lord, strong, handsome, good-natured and well-loved, his only desire is to die with honour in the midst of battle. When his friend, the wolfskin Ulf sets out on a journey to find fabled, verdant isles in the South, he finds himself aboard for the trip against his wishes.

Somerled is Eyvind’s best friend and “blood-brother”, a damaged, easily-slighted, but brilliant young man. Disliked by his half-brother Ulf for being cruel and too-clever, he manages to find his way onto the ship for the journey.

Nessa is a princess of the Light Isles and a priestess, in touch with the secret life of the island and wary of the strange tall, fair, fearsome newcomers to her world.

The initial engagement between the two groups is friendly, but before long there is murder and both sides look to the other with suspicion raising the prospect of a bloodbath being unleashed on the island.

I enjoyed the level of detail in this book. You can tell that Marillier has taken the time to do her research and her description of life amongst the Vikings is interesting and engaging. I have always found the Orkney Islands an interesting place which seems full of mystery. Marillier brings life to the place with what she conceives it might have been like for the people before the Norsemen invaded and they were lost completely to history.

Eyvind’s character is supremely likeable, almost too good to be true perhaps, if a little thick not to recognise what is happening around him. As always with Marillier’s heroines, Nessa is feisty and strong.
The book is easy to read, an untaxing and escapist adventure. I would find it hard to criticise this book, considering how much I enjoyed reading it, it certainly left me with my curiosity about Vikings reawakened (initially raised after reading The Saga of Eric the Viking) and made me want to see the Orkneys for myself.

Castle of Yesnaby, a two-footed sea stack off Orkney. (image source)

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