Fantasy Book Review
I am familiar with Hamilton’s work from his Society of the Sword series. That series was really good but I’m happy to say that he has gotten better. These books feel darker, almost like he added a dash of Abercrombie to his previous mix. The darkness together with the wonderful plot building makes the Wolf of the North well worth the read.
He’s not breaking any new ground within the Northman genre. This has all of the usual Viking tropes but the tropes are what make the Vikings interesting in the first place so you find yourself forgiving them. He does his best to show the limitations of the Warrior driven, patriarchal society but it comes across a little light, especially in how the women are treated. I’m not for misogyny in any universe but the way in which the women are humored seems a tad bit out of place considering that there aren’t any women Warriors. You know Loki wouldn’t have put up with that shit. It’s his world though and since he is not pretending any level of historical fiction, it works.
The story starts with our hero Wolfric as a chubby little pud that is constantly getting the crap kicked out of him. He is the son of the First Warrior though, so his extreme level of sissitude is unacceptable in the family dynamic. With a little mystical help, he finally stands up for himself and in a berserker rage, goes apeshit on one of the bullies that has made his life hell. Their fortunes immediately switch. The bully becomes a despised cripple that is kicked out of the Warrior caste and Wolfric is elevated into it. In standing up for himself he did make an enemy for life and that enemy comes back to haunt him later.
Wolfric then enters his training and spends several of his formative years working on the multiple badges of bad-assery inherent to the Warrior society. Things are looking good until an old evil slithers into their lives and war breaks out between their village and their closest neighbors. As chaos ensues and the ranks of the Warriors are thinned, the village is forced into making one devil’s bargain after another until their society is forever changed. Wolfric and the Warrior caste quickly find themselves pariahs in a new age of softer values. This book does a wonderful job of bringing these struggles to life and captures the emotions of each stage with a poignant grace.
The story is told from the viewpoint of a master storyteller, much in the same way as Rothfuss tells his stories in the King Killer Chronicles. This lends a misty uncertainty to the tale and it gives the author a ton of artistic freedom because the story can fall prey to the memory of the storyteller. This allows for artistic embellishment and a sense of literary tension around what is true and what isn’t.
The culture shift that the Warriors go through is a major component of the novel. It drives the majority of the pain of the characters as change is wont to do and you find yourself super invested in how these clash of cultures is ultimately going to work out. There is romance in the book as well but it is somewhat secondary to the more visceral elements of survival in the harsh climate. At the end of the first novel, the change of cultures is nearly complete and Wolfric and his brethren are not handling it well. When his romantic interest is dealt a rotten hand Wolfric takes off to do something about it and what that is will probably make up the second book. I look forward to it!