Wolfsangel (book, MD Lachlan, 2010)
From SFX 196.
THREE AND A HALF STARS
M. D. Lachlan/ Gollancz / 423 pages / £12.00
ISBN: 978 0575 08959 4
Werewolves get the Viking treatment.
Norse gods are a popular choice in fantasy, but they’ve rarely been handled so well as here. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know, the old gods were not the kind of immortals you’d want living in the sky above you. In Wolfsangel they’re enacting a small scale version of Ragnorok in the mortal world. This is a battle Lachlan intends to revisit as it is replayed down the centuries to the present.
Lachlan also does a grand job of evoking the mortal side of the Viking age, he’s obviously done his research (though I’d disagree with the limited extent his Norse and Danes can understand one another. They all spoke Old Norse, the modern descendants of which are still mutually intelligible). His characters are not 21st century folk in furry legwarmers; Lachlan manages to get into the heads of the people living in the time in a way few fantasy authors manage. His magic too, rooted in brutal, repetitive ritual inspired by real shamanistic practises, has a savage veracity to it.
Unfortunately, there’s something lacking in Wolfsangel. It’s hard to pin down what. Perhaps it’s the plot, which is convoluted without being gripping or surprising, with too much time spent explaining what’s happening. Perhaps it’s that, despite the book’s flair for capturing the spirit of the time, it gets bogged down with causal detail, a very modern concern. This distances Wolfsangel from the sagas that inspire it, and the story, initially firmly embedded in the world of the past, comes unstuck.
Wolfsangel starts much better than it ends. Although Lachlan captures a good snapshot of the Viking age, he can’t quite nail the excitement of the period. Disappointing, but good enough to ensure we’ll be back for more.
Did you know?
Wolfsangel is a rune that comes from Germany (in English, ‘Wolf’s Hook’). When drawn on its side it means ‘Werewolf’. So the book is not ‘Wolf’s Angel’, which is a rubbish title anyway.