(2010) M. D. Lachlan, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, 488pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08957-0
What the werewolf sub-genre of horror needs is a big novel: the sub-genre defining novel, like Dracula did for the vampire, or Frankenstein did with the monster. There is a void, a vacuum for a 'bible' for the louping full-moon brigade.
Robert Louis Stevenson sort of came close with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Thomas Tessier had a good shot with The Nightwalker, Robert R. McCammon did not hit the mark with The Wolf’s Hour (but more of that later), even Guy N. Smith had a few pretty decent attempts with his slim, pulpish, werewolf books, and let’s not forget the King’s own Cycle of the Werewolf, yet still there is a gap waiting for a big, genre-busting werewolf book to come along and fill it. Although, it could be argued that too much time has passed and we are overly familiar with the werewolf myth through movies and TV programmes and popular culture for anyone to produce the big werewolf book, but M. D. Lachlan has a pretty good try with Wolfsangel, albeit that this is the first part of a trilogy, and maybe his attempt should be judged at the end of book three. This is not Lon Chaney Jnr. territory, or something given a contemporary gloss; this is taking the werewolf back, not to basics, but back in history, and giving it an original spin.
Worried that any son of Viking King Authan might challenge his authority, Odin curses the King never to have a boy, and the only way that Authan can beat the curse is to follow the advice of a witch and seek out a child of the gods, who will save his kingdom, and lead his people to glory, but when he gets to the other land to take the child by force, he discovers not one boy, but two, born to a woman with a scarred face. Unsure what to do, he decides to take both of them, and the woman as well. The king soon splits both boys up and sends one – Vali, to be raised by another king, and learn to behave as a nobleman while building an alliance at the same time. Things do not go according to plan, as he does not adopt the ways of the fighting prince, choosing to be a listener and a thinker and a lover instead.
His brother, Feileg, on the other hand is his opposite entirely. First of all raised by the Berserkers and then by a wolf shaman where he becomes more wolf than man, a killing machine, until he is captured by Vali, and freed by Adisla, the farm girl whom Vali loves. Feileg becomes the servant of his prince brother and is on hand to rescue him on more than one occasion, until their relationship and dynamic changes with Feileg becoming accepted by society while Vali’s position spirals downwards from prince to outlaw to werewolf.
The story is told in several strands and the main-fantasy strand is standard fare, though well-paced and gory, if a bit-clichéd, almost like one of those sub-sub Tolkien clones with chases and near-death encounters and escapes, probably too many escapes to be believable, and quips and fast-lines and flat-lines, and lines too modern that jar the reader out of the old Norse world, particularly the wince-making romantic dialogue, all mixed in with political and royal intrigue and brotherly rivalry and a love triangle, and cruel Berserkers and wolf-like barbarians. Yet, at the same time there is another strand running beside the this straight-forward narrative that is magical and brings to the fore the Norsegods and Lachlan’s own creation, the Witch Queen, which is far better written, far more original and striking, haunting and unique. Overall Lachlan cannot be criticised for his research into Norse mythology and his use of it.
What is on the horizon on the way to Ragnarock, and the end of the worlds? Well, book two, and some rumours of Nazi werewolves. Oh, dear, here we go, shades of McCammon’s The Wolf’s Hour which might well have been that big werewolf book and was also partly set in the World War II but came across like a bad TV version of a bad Jackie Collins soap opera potboiler, and ended up as a major disappointment from one of the hottest horror novelists at that time. Hopefully we will not also get echoes of the jarring dream sequence out of an American Werewolf in London which has been done to death ever since. Lachlan can do better than either of those and, on the strength of Wolfsangel, I expect he will.
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