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on 17 March 2005
Wolfskin is the first of a now complete duet; the other book is called Foxmask. It tells the story of Eyvind, a Wolfskin, or berserker, warrior and his friendship with Somerled. The two swear an oath of blood brotherhood as boys, and this oath affects both boys, and the others they encounter, significantly.
This book is some 700 pages long but I found it flowed past easily. Marillier's writing is easily readable, and does an excellent job of bringing the world to life. She manages to imbue certain, quite small lines with a lot of depth and impact, for example "He was not gentle with me." tells you everything you need to know and a whole lot more about both event and characters involved, and the simplicity makes it all the more powerful. To say even one word more would spoil the impact.
This is a book which benefits from being read slowly and with attention, rather than while half asleep or in a rush. This is partly because of some nice, subtle touches here and there, but also because it is a book set in the Viking world. The characters of Wolfskin explain how their world works, and the reader should listen and view the world as they do. These are not modern characters with modern values transplanted to an older setting, and Marillier should be praised for this. Not every author writing in a historical setting manages to do this, and anachronistic characters are a pet hate of mine. To modern eyes certain things characters do or say seem inexplicable, but those same things fit perfectly into the world. Blood brothers are sworn for life; breaking that bond is unthinkable.
Wolfskin managed to do something which none of the many other books I have read recently has done - it actually made me care. Normally when I read I'm very objective; the characters and story do not touch me at all. Books do not provoke emotion in me at all, with a very few exceptions. Tales of people crying, laughing or having to put a book down because of the emotional weight are almost entirely alien to me. However this book I did put down at two points, and I was astonished to find I actually felt slightly angry and upset on behalf of my favourite character (Margaret) quite frequently. No book has promoted any emotional effect from me in ... years. I also find the book is lingering on in my mind long after I put it down, and that is also rare.
Somerled is an interesting villain. Scenes where his better side shine through are quite touching because they show would could have been. The scene where Somerled teaches Eyvind to write his own name is, in particular, one of my favourites. I found it was quite clear Somerled could have been very different, if only ...
The book is not perfect by any means, and as I write fiction myself I am a very picky reader. I find far less to nitpick about with Wolfskin than with the other books I have read recently. Eyvind and Nessa, the two main characters, felt less compelling to me than Margaret. Margaret is a character who gets relatively little space, perhaps only appearing in 1/8th of the book total, and yet she really did grab my imagination, and has continued to hold my attention several days after I closed the book. I found both her story and her character to be more engaging to those of the main duo. I wish she had been given a lot more pages. Nessa, in particular, had no real effect or interest for me, and I found her parts of the book to be my least favourite parts, except when her path crossed with Eyvind or Margaret.
There are certain moments where characters actions become a little hard to believe. At some points, even reading with the Viking viewpoint instead of a modern one, I found myself asking why Eyvind never even said anything about certain of Somerled's actions, or tried to explain why his friend was wrong. At first Eyvind does try, but he is always quickly rebuffed and made to seem stupid, and from there seems to give up. But I still find it hard to believe Eyvind, who is undoubtedly a good man, did not keep trying, especially when Somerled went from smaller evils to increasingly greater ones. He does finally start trying again in the end, but not before letting many things go.
Marillier manages something which both frustrates and delights me - she has her characters acting like real people, and at some points this gets rather unfair. It hurts when characters I like get the short end of the stick, but at the same time it's brilliant to see characters behaving just like real people, who do have selective memories and can be painfully unfair.
The book is not a pure historical novel; it does feature some magic. I would not say it is a fantasy story through, just a good story which needs certain parts of Dark Age mythology to be 'real' so it can tell the tale it wishes to. Indeed, this approach does lend the story a certain feeling of kinship to the old Viking sagas.
I am currently reading the second in this duet, and I feel that the two books should be read together. Marillier is doing an excellent job of adding new depth and insight into her original characters, even if the second books mostly concerns their children. Somerled in particular is becoming more and more sympathetic to me as I go. A re-read of Wolfskin will follow once I have finished Foxmask. I do not usually re-read books so soon after finishing them, but I feel I am learning such a lot I will gain more from both books.
In closing I would recommend both books.
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on 21 August 2004
i thought this was yet another excellent book from a fantastic author. I had read the sevenwaters trilogy and so as soon as it came out had to buy it. i was hooked, i took it everywhere with me and read it whenever and wherever i could.
i definately equals or exceeds the storylines in sevenwaters. the main characters seem so real and she has thought of everything; all the threads are wrapped up in an excellent fashion. as soon as i read it i could not wait for foxmask so i had something else to sink my teeth into.
one friend i have has also read sevenwaters and recommmended melanie rawn to me. if you enjoy juliet marillier books then that is definately another author who you should investigate. i flows in the same way and, again, i was totally hooked
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on 19 May 2003
After setting herself a hard act to follow with the outstanding "seven waters " trilogy, Juliet Marillier has nevertheless managed to maintain her high standard. The book focuses on Evyind, a young norseman whose ambition is to follow in his brother's footsteps and become one of the Jarl's wolfskins. Marillier has managed once again to give a convincing portrayal of the thoughts and fears of an earlier culture without weighing down her prose with overblown archaisms or making the characters totally alien to todays reader. The themes of loyalty and how far it should be allowed to go were in keeping with the historical content as well as striking a chord with the modern reader. Most touching, I found, was her distinction between academic and moral/ emoitional intelligence in her main characters. There aren't that many main character's out there who are wise but cannot read. A point I was glad she made. I did feel that this book was a little more rushed than her previous efforts, and I found the use of third person viewpoint less engaging than the almost uncanny way she gets into her characters skins in the "seven waters" trilogy. However these are minor points and this is definitely worth a read.
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on 18 May 2004
This is a book I just couldn't put down! The story tells of two boys, Eyvind, who is ambitious to become a Wolfskin (a kind of berserker warrior) and Somerled, puny but crafty, with ambitions to become a ruler of men. To Somerled the end always justifies the means. The boys grow up and find their destinies, which are not what they (or the reader) expect. We meet Nessa, a girl born to be the priestess of her people and preserve the old ways. Mystery and enchantment permeate the pages of this book, and will be appreciated by lovers of Norse and Celtic mythology. The descriptions of the places (Norway, The Orkneys) and the way of life are well-researched and therefore vivid and convincing. And at the core of the story are the universal themes of faith and loyalty, love and death, the difficulty of making a choice. As with the "Sevenwaters" trilogy, I became totally involved in the world created by Juliet Marillier, and felt full of regret, after reading the last memorable pages, that the story was over (at least until the sequel). Great book! I would recommend it to anyone interested in the past - and in human nature.
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on 12 April 2003
A quite beautifully written book. The prose is extraordinarily vivid and the author effortlessly conjures up her settings of Norway and the Orkney Islands.
It concerns Eyvind, a young Norse warrior who has wanted nothing more than to fight for his lord, his step-brother Somerled who has an altogether more complex, and darker ambition and their colonisation of the remote Orkney Islands.
There are no prizes for guessing who is the hero and who is the villain in this story. The strength of the story lies in the conflict between the two leads. Eyvind and Somerled are blood brothers, sworn to stand beside one another no matter what. However, one of them has descended into despotism - is the other to follow?
The book combines the history of the Vikings with the little we know of the Orkney Islands to produce what stars off as a traditional heroic novel set firmly in history. Since the origins of the people of the Orkneys are quite obscure, the author has great freedom to build her own culture, then put it into conflict with the much better known Norse cultures. However, as the story develops it develops a second, equally powerful thread - that of epic myth and legend. The concrete facts of history become intertwined with ancient legends.
At first the two threads don't seem to sit easily with one another, but as the story approaches its climax, they build into a rattling good read - the last 200 pages just fly along.
I particularly enjoyed the ending, which stepped away from the all-too-obvious revenge solution. I won't say how everything is resolved, but credit to Juliet Marillier for something that manages to be satisfying and different.
If I were to be picky I would say that the dialogue sometimes felt a little too modern, but the alternative of thees and thous would have been infinitely worse.
Overall, an extraordinarily good read.
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VINE VOICEon 27 August 2006
Set in Norway & Orkney at the time of the Vikings is Eyvind, all he has ever wanted to be is a Wolfskin, his friend, Somerled only ever wants to be a King.

It is as a small child Eyvind's brother, brings home another child called Somerled and is Eyvind's job to teach him. Somerled, is not an easy person to teach he is in fact almost the opposite of Eyvind but, teach Somerled he does which comes at a cost to Eyvind.

They both take part in an expedition sailing roughened waters, unknown to them and eventually find themselves on the Light Isles (known to us today as the Faroe Islands) and here is discovered the young Priestess, Nessa. The new settlement begins all too well until a brutal murder shatters the tranquility ....

Having read (and loved!) the Sevenwaters Trilogy I was apprehensive about this one and it took me such a long time to get round to reading it, I love Juliet's style of writing but, was scared for want of a better word that this would never match up to Sevenwaters and I would be left feeling disappointed.

I need not have been, this was a fantastic story of friendship, betrayal , the character of Eyvind and nessa were for me the highpoints of the story, once again a beautifully written story that draws you in, I loved it!
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on 11 April 2003
Like Juliet Marilliers other books this story was also a page turner.
The characters are well drawn and so is the world in which they live and die.
The only thing I found when starting the book was that the author moved quickly through the early events but this is more understandable when you reach the main part of the story as this first part explains the link between the characters which is essential to the main conflict of the story.
It is a story of self discovery and truth for the main character and the author makes you care deeply for him.
This book explores issues similar to those in her other books and if you have read those and enjoyed them you will certainly enjoy this one.
If you haven't read her other books then do so and read this one!
She explores life and beliefs in the celt and viking era and anyone with an interest in these time and the legends around these times will find it an enjoyable read.
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on 7 February 2005
I just love Juliet Marillier! Her method of writing is gripping and full of ancient mythology and a sense of magic that leaves you never wanting to put it down. Her writing beautifully combines real life with mystical qualities. Wolfskin has everything you could possibly need from a novel - betrayal, love, frienship, war, murder, suspense and more, to create a truely thrilling read. It also has changes of narrative throughout so you get a greater perspective on how the characters are feeling. I can't explain how much I loved reading this book! You have to read it for yourself! I'm 18 and if it gets me to read then it must be good....
(Also, check out the Sevenwaters Trilogy too because they are exceptional aswell!!!)
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Juliet Marillier was born in New Zealand and brought up in Dunedin, the 'Edinburgh of the South'. She has written a number of novels that have been extremely successful, including the Sevenwaters series. She has a passionate interest in Celtic music and Irish folklore. A mother of two daughters and two sons, she lives in a rural area outside Perth in Western Australia.

Wolfskin is the first book in the Children of the Light series. The story beings with Eyvind a young boy dreaming of the day when he can become a warrior. His present existence could not be farther removed from the thing that he longs for with all his heart.
Eyvind lives on a prosperous farm, but dreams of the day when he can join the elite group of warriors known as the Wolfskins, led by Jarl Magnus. Many an evening round the dancing flames of the fire, he has heard tales of the daring adventures carried out by the Wolfskins. Their loyalty to one another knows no bounds.

Although the books is about the Vikings, it is a fantasy world that they live in and as another reviewer said not historically correct. But that does not matter, it is written to entertain the reader and it certainly succeeds in doing that.
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on 3 September 2009
I picked up Wolfskin whilst on holiday, and soon found myself so hooked that I managed to finish all 700 and some pages over just two days. The characters, especially the main two, are very well developed and you find yourself really starting to care for them.

I like that Somerled is not like your usual villain, he clearly has a good side to his personality, and you can't help but fell a little sorry for him at some points.

The book could possibly have been a little shorter, sometimes it takes a bit of a while to get to the point, and Eyvind (the main character) sometimes takes a very long time to figure out things which seem to me blindingly obvious (supposedly because he's blinded by his trust in Somerled, but its still a little annoying). However, despite this, I still love this book & its sequel and would definately recommend them.

If you enjoyed this or any other of Juliet Marillier's books, I would recommend Jules Watson's Dalraida trilogy, as it is very similar in many ways to Juliet Marillier's work, and definately worth reading.
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