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Posted by Dan Smyth On Friday, May 06, 2011

Honestly this novel was extremely difficult for me to rate. There was a whole lot of this book that I absolutely loved. Aaaaand a bundle of stuff that completely annoyed me. Thus, the experience ended up being akin to approaching an uber-hot blonde that doesn't shave her armpits or brush her teeth: you just can't tell you won't like it until you get close enough. So, did I like it? Mostly. However, let me elucidate.

WOLFSANGEL is M.D. Lachlan’s first foray into fantasy, though it’s fairly difficult to tell. Herein he gives us a story that is quite character-centric, with great world building, awesome atmosphere, magical interlopers, twisted plot--the works. Norse mythology plays a central role to the world, but the story feels fresh and new despite the fact. There is so much here to like and Lachlan gives it to us in large measure.

The story starts with King Athun, lord and leader of his people, who has gathered his ten finest men at the behest of his own prophetic ability and is off to steal himself an heir apparent from another village. But when he arrives, there are two boys, not one, and the king has to make a decision. With little choice, he grabs them both and their mother and journeys to the witches of the Troll Wall to ask them what he must do. Thus begins the tale of the two boys. Both sired by a god--one raised by a king, the other by witches and mountain men--to play a role central to the land and its peoples.

Sounds pretty good, yeah? Well, like I said, it was...for the most part. The beginning was really rough, with jumps from the head of one character to another, information and history dumped into our laps, and a whole lot of "Huh?" all bunched onto the page. It feels very much like a hazy tale from the days of oral tradition--very abstract, loose, and ultimately kinda meh. Then, after six chapters (and what seemed to me would probably better suit the book as a long prologue) the story leaves the king behind and leaps to the stories of the two boys several years in the future, then pretty much sticks with them for the duration.

It was at this point that I started to get into the story. The first of the boys, Vali, has a local love interest, gets included in a Viking-like raiding party, and has enough character to just make me cheer. Feilig, Vali's lost brother, loses his mentor and quasi-father, and begins to wander the world. Eventually they meet, Feilig starts to eye Vali's lovely girl, and the result is a ton more goodness. Through them, we immediately get a sense of the world and how it works. Kings with lands and villages beholden to him, frequent raiding parties, tests of strength and manhood. In short, the world is cold, hard, and without mercy. For the most part the pacing of the book is slow and methodical. Plot progression comes at the head of violence from multiple directions, and soon this becomes not only a story of growth and love, but of revenge and hatred as well.

The head-jumping persists, though in limited form. Those of you that OK with 3rd Person Omniscient PoV won't have much trouble here. It's very light, and very clear 99% of the time. Most of the time this PoV style isn't even noticeable since there's a whole lot of time with only minimal interaction between the characters, leaving but a single option. In these times, the book gets downright awesome. At the other end of the swing though stands the fact that when things are supposed to get exciting, like during battles and at confrontations, the head jumping can foster confusion and tension is quickly lost--this is a problem in most actions scenes in any novel using Omniscient. Lacking this single PoV issue, this book was probably one of the most amazingly good books I’ve read in a long time and would have brought on some serious “Love” from yours truly (with some serious agreement from the other reviewers here at EBR).

Well, if not for the ending, that is.

Because, you see, the ending of a book is supposed to be the part that is the MOST exciting and the MOST incredible out of everything else we’ve yet read, and based on what I’ve just told you, I’m sure you can imagine a bit of what happened. PoV shifts every couple of paragraphs, piled on top of repetitive backtracking to get everyone into the same cave, mixed with “plot-twist” revelation that makes you repeatedly say Huh?, and everything coming together in a crescendo of violence that left me disliking just about everything that occurred. And in these dozens of pages, the book went from a playing in the realm of “Love/Like” to solidly “Mediocre”. The change was THAT drastic and bizarre.

I discussed the ending with the Overlords here at EBR to see if I was nuts. They said yes, but it had nothing to do with the ending of WOLFSANGEL. Steve commented that the real ending of the book happened about 50 or 60 pages before the author's ending. Then everything was tacked on. Then it got even worse with the last 6 pages. It's OK to be weird in a story, but not so weird that you lose the readers who have LOVED 90% of the novel with and ending SO abstract and "out there". The ending is the last thing a reader reads. Obviously. So shouldn't it leave you smiling rather than grinding your teeth?

Some have said that the ending of a book will often dictate, to large degree, whether you like it or not. This was very much the case here. In the end, a good book that was held back from being great by poor 60-page "bookends". It is still worth a read for most of you fantasy lovers. Just be prepared for the head jumping (if that bothers you) and the really odd ending. Will I dive into the sequel? Yup. Though I truly hope it doesn't suffer from a repetitive story and the same ill-fitting bookends.

Recommended age: 16 plus, for violence
Language: Very little, though strong
Violence: Giant werewolf with a taste for gallons of blood: 1 + 1 = ??
Sex: Minor references

MD Lachlan’s blog


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