Book Review: The Wolf of the North

If you’ve seen The Princess Bride – and if you have not, then I suggest you go and do so without delay – you will remember the scene at the beginning, when the grandfather, who proves to be the narrator of the story, describes the story he has come to read to his grandson. The boy is skeptical, but the older man excitedly describes, “Fencing! Fighting! Chases! Escapes! Giants! Revenge! True love! Miracles!” I feel a bit like that grandfather right now.

The Wolf of the North is the first novel in a series of the same name, by Duncan M. Hamilton. It’s an adventure, a fantasy, and it’s a love story. It follows an intricate series of events over the course of several years, weaving a compelling, spellbinding tale of greed, honor, intrigue, love, revenge, justice, war, disaster, heroism, villainy – you can see where I feel like the grandfather from Princess Bride right now – and the changing of an era, a land, and a people. And this is only the beginning of the story.

I liked it. Can you tell? 😉

Like Princess Bride, the story begins with the narrator. He is called the Maisterspeaker. It is his job to tell stories, and this is a story most important to him, right now, as he is a part of it, and, in fact, he is living its conclusion. With a little time to spare, and with his mind filled with the past that has helped bring him here, he begins to tell the story, in its entirety, to the locals, who are, like the rest of us, quickly enraptured by the telling of it.

It begins in the village of Leondorf, in a land akin to old Germania or Scandinavia in Medieval Europe. There we find a young lad named Wulfric, who will one day be known as Ulfyr. We hear, in the beginning, the names of his legendary companions, but if they are seen in this story, then they don’t have those names yet either. For now, he is a boy, and we follow as he becomes a man. Just that, alone, is an epic tale in and of itself.

Through a complicated series of events, all driven by believable characters, the village of Leondorf is plunged into a terrible crisis, one that is only endured with great cost. The results of these events have dire long-term ramifications for the entire region and the people within. More immediately, though, before, during, and after the crisis, the dearest wish to Wulfric’s heart is to marry the girl he loves: Adalhaid. But even something so simple and precious as true love is a prize not easily won. Time and again, it seems the world means to tear them apart, but it is the final time, when their separation is the result of nothing more than petty, spiteful, greedy scheming of lesser men with greater influence, which is too much to be born. If the world stands between Wulfric and Adalhaid, then the world had best get out of the way if it knows what’s good for it.

That, alas, is where the novel ends. It’s probably the best stopping point which could be asked for, but a bit of me still wants to bash Hamilton on the head with his own book for the cliffhanger! 😛 And I am eager and greedy for the next book, Jorundyr’s Path, which is already out and which I am barely exercising patience in obtaining.

I absolutely enjoyed this book.

It was great seeing Wulfric’s development from a bullied boy into a man that, really, any other man would be in his right mind to beware of. He had lessons to learn, more than how to be physically strong. He had to learn about being a man, and a good one at that. He still has much to learn about people, but he’s well on his way.

I usually mention the characters, and I loved this lot too. …well, mostly. I absolutely hated the people I was supposed to hate, the real villains, but that, too, was very well done. The decisions which proved pivotal, like the hinges on which a door swings, were all believable and easy to comprehend because we understood the people making them, good and bad alike. The world felt lived in rather than just constructed, and the people felt like they were actually living instead of just being there.

There was exactly one point I felt a little iffy about, and that was the status of the warriors. I understand they were the northern equivalent of knights, being raised in status because they fought in the village’s defense. What I lacked understanding was how the rest of the villagers could be so helpless. This is wild land they’re in, with neighbors who are not always friendly. I would actually expect farmers and ranchers to be able to take care of themselves a bit. Perhaps not like trained, armed warriors, but capable of hunting and fighting for themselves. Even women in warrior cultures could often fight to protect their homes and children.

Lacking such, I was waiting for Wulfric or someone else to think of solving a serious problem they have by, you know, training the rest of the village in fighting, if only a little. Not only would they swell the ranks of their fighters, but it would certainly unite them, as everyone was fighting for their village together. But… that didn’t happen. Not at all. It was a bit disappointing to have something so obvious go unnoticed.

But, I suppose if they’d done that, they may never have been able to have a situation like they have at the end of the novel.

Outside that detail, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I’m not only looking forward to the next book in the series, I’m wanting to read everything else Hamilton has published.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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