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on 28 May 2010
There is a single reason why I don't consider myself a book blogger, and that's simply because sometimes real life gets in the way. I'm a slow reader as it is, liking to take my time to absorb the prose, but it would feel slightly unprofessional to take as long as I do over a book. I'm also one of those people who if I don't pick up a book at least once every couple of days, I lose the thread and have to give up.

So I feel slightly guilty towards Wolfsangel. I've been reading it for about six weeks whilst real life makes heavy demands of my time. However, probably the greatest compliment I can pay to it is that the book always kept me coming back for more.

It's competently written as well. I've always believed that prose should serve the story not self-serve the writer's ego, and I recognised a lot of this in the style of Wolfsangel, to the extent that I've spent many a night recently wondering if writers from a journalistic background have a more functional style of writing.

Now that doesn't mean the writing is dull, just that the quality of the prose is consistent, that there were no standout moments, no one-liners I thought "Oooo, I must remember to quote that when I come to write up my thoughts". In fact the only real flourish comes in Chapter 6,

"What is prophecy? It is a wide thing of many forms. We don't call a person who anticipates a cat will knock over a cup and moves to catch it a prophet. We don't maintain that the ability to look at the clouds and say it will rain makes you a seer."

The lack of flourish doesn't cause an issue. Lachlan sets out to tell a big story and flourish would just get in the way.

Now you might already be rolling your eyes at the thought of a Viking werewolf novel, but it's actually very, very original. Yes, werewolf novels have been around for years but Lachlan has done a frankly incredible job of making it fit seamlessly into Viking history. It doesn't feel like a mash up, it feels like they truly belong. I like it when people take those tropes others have deemed impossible to do anything original with, and prove those others wrong. I like it better when they do it well. Wolfsangel does it exceptionally. I think this could go down as a classic amongst Werewolf stories.

I'm really, really fussy about world-building but I have to say that I totally believed in Wolfsangel's world. I don't know how much (like the Troll Wall) is based on fact, and how much was made up, but I never questioned any of it. Seamless - and that's the highest compliment I can pay.

Magic also plays a heavy part in the story, and I think what Lachlan does with it is nothing short of superb. He portrays the magic in such a way that it feels very real. These aren't spells of "accio-werewolf," instead they're much more journeys into the mind, and as such I think they did a lot to make Lachlan's Viking world seem fresh and inventive, real and dangerous, creepy and original. So much so, that when the transformation does eventually take place, we're already so invested in the magic system of this world, it doesn't feel corny. Dare I use the phrase "gritty magic"? Oh I just did.

However, the novel did have a number of minor issues for me and it's taken a lot of time to unravel them. I'm not so naïve to believe that issues are always the realm of the author and this has really stretched my grey matter trying to unravel it all.

Now don't get me wrong the story is great, the ideas rich, original and fantastic, just that I felt slightly removed from the text, that the beat of the story (and my heart along with it) never seemed to quicken or slow down.

There's a lot of set up - it's a big story and there's a lot of story to tell (and to be fair with lots of short chapters, the book gets through the story at a cracking pace). We get introduced to a lot of characters in quick succession, but even a hundred pages in I wasn't sure who I should be rooting for: Vali, his father, Saitada, the witches or Feileg. The point of view can often shift mid-way through a scene and whilst it's done with complete competence, it did leave me as the reader asking myself "whose side am I on?" And whilst some people can whizz through a hundred pages in a couple of hours, at my speed I did wonder where the prologue ended and the story started. It meant that it put a veil between me investing in the characters emotively.

There's also a lot of story here and Lachlan is sometimes guilty of telling you rather than letting you experience it in order to keep the story pacing along. Whilst I think the old writer's adage "show don't tell" is maybe over-simplifying it, I think for the most part Lachlan skillfully balances the needs to keep the plot moving, with the short-term satisfaction of the reader. The trouble is that you'll never please everyone, and whilst I was fully invested in the story, I wasn't quite as invested in the characters.

As a result in moments of high drama, I didn't feel my empathy was quite what it could be.

"... had been murdered in her bed. Blood was everywhere, a grisly scarf of red extending down the front of her white smock. He approached and saw her throat was cut. He could imagine all too well what else had happened to her".

I've spent a long time thinking about this but there's something cold and slightly dispassionate about this to me. I wanted to get into Vali's head here, feel the grief he was feeling, and for some reason I feel it's missing something, as if an edit went too far and in doing so lost some of the emotion. I feel slightly removed from Vali's feelings. Now, I fully accept this is a personal opinion, I know other people I trust who've read it and not seen this. As they say, your mileage may differ.

I do wonder, however, if the whole relationship between Vali and Feileg could have been a mystery that unravelled over the course of the book, rather than given to you at the outset. The front end is very info-heavy and I think for me at least, I needed some extra hook to lead me along before the `big change', especially in those early chapters when it's hard to know where the story is going.

Have you ever seen a monster movie, where the monster doesn't turn up until the final act? One where you are so keen to see the actual monster that all the build up of dramatic tension and story (no matter how good or necessary) seems to get in the way instead of enhance your enjoyment? I was kinda like this with Wolfsangel. I mean, I was genuinely really enjoying it - I had to be to keep snatching moments to read during a busy few weeks - but at the same time I was promised werewolves and it was a long time before they actually appeared.

And once they did, it was like that metaphorical veil lifted, the beats seemed to quicken, and I became more fully invested in the story. Now, I think that says more about my impatience as a reader rather than something against the story, but I did find myself wondering if the issues I had, as minor as they were, were the fault of the author or the reader.

Now if that makes me sound as if I'm a bit down against this book, let me say it's probably one of the best written fantasy novels I've read this year.

When it boils down to it, this was a book that takes a classic trope and retells it in an original way, and does so in such a way that it still kept drawing me back when time for important things was just non-existent.

A brilliant start to a new series - I will be looking forward to the next with eagerness - let down by only a few minor issues that may just be personal taste, 4.5/5
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The two boys that King Authun kidnaps are the main protagonists of the novel. They grow up apart, neither knowing of the others existence. Vali is raised as the King Authun's son, and has everything that a boy could wish for. This life makes him somewhat spoiled, and not immediately the easiest character to empathise with, well not initially anyway. His story really picks up when he is forced to fend for himself after his adoptive father effectively disowns him. Meanwhile, the other brother, Feileg is left to survive in the wilds amongst the mountain men and the wolves. This brutal lifestyle leaves its mark and by the time he is in his teens he is more animal than man. He has learned to kill with his bare hands and eat his meals raw. It's a nice juxtaposition to witness the differing lives of these two siblings.

On a larger scale there are various political schemes and plots afoot between several warring kingdoms. This guarantees that there is plenty of blood-thirsty action. I particularly liked the berserker mercenaries when they were introduced. There are a number of excellent battle scenes that vividly depicts their unrestrained violent behaviour. This is where the plot of Wolfsangel really excels. Lachlan has an eye for detail that incorporates both the small details of individual character plots with the epic visuals of frenzied fast paced battles.

The werewolves in Wolfsangel are quite different from others that I have come across elsewhere during this month. There is more of a blending of man and animal. Feileg has a bestial quality due to his upbringing, as the story progresses he slowly re-learns what it means to be human. Vali meanwhile, suffers the opposite fate. He becomes more and more of a beast.

A highlight of the book was the vivid description of the transformation from man to wolf. It is handled extremely well really puts the reader in the skin of the werewolf.

It is fairly obvious from the outset that Lachlan has incorporated key elements of Norse mythology into the story, and does this with great success. Odin and Loki both appear and those who are familiar with those tales will find a lot to enjoy. This is married together with shamanistic magic used by witches, to create a story that is not only action packed but works on a metaphysical level as well.

Wolfsangel and its sequel, Fenrir are available now. I can assure you I certainly won't be waiting so long before I get around to reading book two in this series.
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on 2 September 2014
I can't understand why, but this book almost make me feel ill, in a deranged and obsessive way, and utterly brilliantly.

There's something so compelling about the world where the Norse gods are real that truly brings out the insane nature of their worship like nothing else I have read.

This may sound bizarre, but other religious themed writing has never resonated with me, I haven't felt any passion in them, yet these depictions of the gods, their powers and their followers I find nightmarishly gripping.

I's almost as though it's repellent in a way, but I genuinely feel almost possessed when reading them, and it makes understandable the genuine belief and power of that belief that these ancient societies experienced.

I thoroughly recommend this series, they are like nothing else I have ever read.
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on 16 August 2010
This is the first fantasy novel by MD Lachlan and although I've said this a few times recently, he also has a very unique voice in the fantasy genre, and this is certainly not a me-too product in any way. I can't point to any other fantasy book that I have read and say, Wolfsangel is a bit like that, because it's a very distinct and disturbing creation.

The story has a strange dream like quality to it, and is an unusual mix of elements including horror, fantasy, Norse mythology, original creative concepts and twisted variations of ideas which I can't detail without spoiling. King Authun is a man without an heir and following the words of prophecy given to him by the witches of the Troll Wall, mystical overseers who speak to the Gods, he plans to steals a baby boy and raise him as his own. Unfortunately during the raid on a Saxon village he finds two babies, not one, and at this point I realised the story was not going to be predictable. What unfolds is a dark and twisted tale that often seems bleak and brutal, but at the end I was not left feeling disheartened, rather I was enthralled by the events which had unfolded and eager to find out what happened next in the next book.

Prince Vali is raised to become king under the watch of one of King Authun's chiefs, but he wants nothing to do with power or glory and has no desire to carve up the enemy. He would rather forgo the throne and spend a quite life living in peace with Adisla, a local girl. Unknown to him, his brother Feilig is raised by strangers and then by wolves and a wolf shaman, leaving him feral and half human. The story revolves around these three characters and their fate which each does their utmost to escape. The witch queen of the Troll Wall is a twisted and weird creature, barely human in some regards who manipulates people at a distant with her power and torturous magic. Nothing comes easy to any of the characters. Every bit of happiness is hard won and also every bit of magic is unlike any you've probably read about before. There are no scrolls, no incantations or waving of hands. To tap into the runic power the witches brutalise themselves and put their bodies through physical trials until they skirt the edge of madness or plunge into it fully. Some of the most disturbing scenes are not the battles, which are gory and to the point, but rather how the witches and other characters ask the gods for their favour.

The characters are not always likeable, especially Vali, who thinks he is hard done by, but when compared to the life his brother has led it puts his complaints into perspective. After a while I warmed to Vali and felt some sympathy for him because he is trapped by fate and birth into a life he doesn't want. Most men in the story would jump at the chance to be a leader, receive great wealth and fight in epic battles, but he is actually happy to settle for less. By the time he realises he can't do whatever he wants it's too late, his inaction has repercussions as several other people have ideas about what he should be doing and he is pulled in several directions at once. Overall the characterisation is very effective and all of the characters are unique with distinct voices and patterns of dialogue.

Odin, the All-Father and Loki, the Trickster are the most prominent of Gods at play here, but they are not openly walking across the land in human guise as we've seen in other books, such as American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Here people pray to them, drown and torture themselves to tap into a small bit of their power and the results are never everything they hoped for. The Gods work from the shadows, manipulating people, unknowingly most of the time, and using them for their own ends and playing a game on a scale we can't fathom. The world is a giant game of chess to them and we're all pawns to be used and then discarded.

It's very clear that MD Lachlan has done his research and if you know your Norse mythology then you will get more out of this as there are signs and portents that point to what is going on. Events are foreshadowed and these are interwoven with mythology into a complex, and what is essentially, an adventure story in some regards.

The book has received a lot of high praise and rightly so. It is a stark, bold and gripping tale about life, love, fate, myths and dark magic. It is also the first in a planned series and I am very curious to see where the author takes it next.
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on 30 October 2011
OK, it's not really his debut. It's no big secret that M D Lachlan also writes non fantasy novels under his real name (Mark Barrowcliffe).

It is, however his fantasy debut, & a very impressive one it is. Well-researched to say the least, it still avoids suffocating the reader in dry facts about Vikings & Norse mythology.

Lachlan's writing style is actually really easy to read, in fact I can remember few other novels that had me sucked in after just a page or two. He also has an elegantly witty turn of phrase, which had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

A couple of other reviewers have claimed they found it boring & hard to finish. I find that surprising. It's such an engrossing read that I finished the whole book in two sittings.

This is not one of those twee fantasy novels, with wizards, unicorns & dragons though. Anything but. It bears more resemblance to the gritty sword & sorcery of Robert E. Howard & Fritz Leiber, but within a more historically based milieu.

I have the follow up (Fenrir) loaded on my kindle & ready to go.
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Allow me to digress here for a bit before I start my full review. Last year I attended Dragonmeet only for one thing: to sit in on a talk by a handful of authors, amongst them David Devereux, Stephen Deas, Johnny Nexus and MD Lachlan (aka Mark Barrowcliffe). The talk had to do with gaming and writing and it was probably one of the funniest and interesting talks I've been to. What came out is that most of the authors on the panel were all gamers or at least ex-gamers but that a lot of them had interest in the occult. MDL mentioned this a few times and this made me itch to read Wolfsangel more. I suspected dark dealings, spells, evil, witches...interesting things.

And I wasn't disappointed. MDL takes a story and imbues it with a wild dark magic that lifts an almost standard quest adventure (historical) fantasy into something vivid, gritty and wonderfully epic.

The king's action at the beginning of the novel is so imaginatively over the top, I initially thought it was a dream sequence. Little did I know this was in fact the tone of the entire novel. King Athun leads a raid on a small village with the express desire to steal away a baby boy, to take him back to his own kingdom and raise him as his own. Only thing is, when he finds the boy, he discovers not one but two boys. Twins. He takes the decision to raise one and send one to be raised by the witches who sent him on this quest in the first instance. Athun's word is law - his thanes, friends and fellow warriors - obey his instructions and stay to fight the people from the village and surrounds, ensuring their king's escape. This opening salvo is already seeped deeply with the magic of the otherworld. It shows us the iron-hold of the witches on a king and a king's hold on his people.

The boy who is taken by the king, Vali, grows up a little bit spoilt and is sent off to be fostered. His life is not too bad, a bit of practice with a sword, but mostly Vali is an easygoing kid who is more than just a bit in love with the lovely Adisla.

The twin brother given to the witches were sent off to the Beserkers to be raised. And boy, did they turn this child into a feral beast! The author uses reserves of imagination here yet he doesn't bombard us with the grimness of the boy's education. It is what it is. Fact. Move on.

On one level we have an almost basic quest happening here: Vali has to prove his dedication to his friend and true love Adisla by following the orders of his step-father to go off and hunt down one of the wolves that's been preying on travellers. This leads Vali to capture his twin brother Feileg. Their society is so steeped in lore that when Vali sees his brother's face for the first time he thinks he's being tricked by a witch, a demon, and doesn't realise that it is in fact his brother. He carries him back to the settlement where Adisla takes pity on the feral boy-man. Her kindness to him, generates a loyalty and love within Feileg, something he's never felt before. When pirates / raiders attack and Adisla is taken, Vali and Feileg set off to bring her back.

MDL has taken this recognisable tale and spun it through various layers, using some pretty impressive story telling skills and what I can only assume was insanely fun research to create a dark mysterious world that feels like it's walking side by side with one we know. There are monsters, battles, love, betrayal, witches...the works.

What sticks Wolfsangel together is the sense of place and of time. The characters are well developed yet not all of them are likeable. Which in itself is a feat. They stick in your mind, they make you wonder about the bigger story here, the story of Odin, Fenris and Loki. How the humans in this story try and cope with the choices they make, but are they really making it or has it all happened long before?

I can maybe gab on a lot more about Wolfsangel (I'm sorry MDL, the next time we meet, your ear will be bent!) but I think what it boils down to is this: epic storytelling never grows old, especially if you have someone like MD Lachlan to tell it to you. But please, don't take my word for it. Go read it for yourself.
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Wolfsangel is one of those books that just feels epic, the kind of epic found in legends and myths and less often than you would think in fantasy books. Though a newcomer to the genre, M.D. Lachlan brings with this genre-debut a lot of weight and excitement, which is, of course, always a plus. Woflsangel is the bringing of a historical fantasy series that will span the centuries from the period in this book, Vikings, to WWII. Far from flawless, Wolfsangel is nevertheless a novel that is sure to thrust its author forward in the fantasy genre.

Like I said, this is a story clearly reminiscent of the classic tales. It shares both many themes and the feel of such tales. The basic premise too, is similar. Who has never read, watched or heard a story about a young prince setting off on a quest to rescue his loved one? But that's not what Wolfsangel is all about it's just the beginning, a part of it. Very quickly Lachlan starts to tell a very different story, one filled with dark magic, unknown beasts, intrigue, some intense battles and ripe emotions, not to mention the entire second, parallel, plot that runs along with the prince-on-a-quest one. The story is also made more interesting by the fact that it tells the stories of both twins at once, interweaving them as is appropriate, making it a whole lot more fulfilling.

In terms of characters...well, let's just say that in much the same way as the tone of the book, they resemble the characters of old epics. Which is to say that they posses varying amounts of depth; one moment they'll be very distant and the next they will be as lovable as can be. While not a deterring from reading, it is a bit inconsistent. This isn't helped by the fact that the two main characters, the twins, have sort of inverse relationships in terms of their character arcs, meaning an almost complete switch between their personalities occurs. Sadly, one of the characters I grew to appreciate in the first chapters of the book, King Authun, soon disappeared before making a short and disappointing return for the denouement.

What bothered me the most about Wolfsangel is a certain lack of fluidity between different elements of the story, be it chapter, story arcs or point of views. Quite a few times I noticed a bit of a wandering viewpoint, nothing major, but I do like consistency and it did seem to me occasionally too blatant. On the whole though, none of these issues were enough to prohibit my enjoyment of the novel.

After reading what is above, does it come as a surprise that I recommend this? There is very little not to love in Wolfsangel or M.D. Lachlan's resplendent prose. The novel possesses phenomenal action and stupendous scope. A highly recommendable read for any fan of fantasy or any interested in an original new take on the werewolf mythos as well as any that fancy an entertaining jaunt across a Viking-filled north. One piece of advice before leaving: keep an eye on Lachlan because he is sure to amaze us with his feature novels.
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on 14 June 2010
When I finished Wolfsangel I must say I felt a little hollow. Here is a great story, told with real craftsmanship, original and refreshing, that at times - but mostly at the end - feels a bit rushed. Leaving me somewhat startled at the sudden ending but nevertheless craving for more.
The book is basically told in two layers.
The first layer, which spans the entire story, has the premise of mortals as conduits for the gods - in this case those of the Norse pantheon. This is not entirely new but it does have a nice twist as the gods in question are not always aware that they are gods. As a result their true motivations are mostly hidden from themselves and therefore from the reader, which, combined with a truly great take on magic, adds to the mystique.
Then there is also the quest-like layer of the two brothers, in search of their loved one, that takes us all over Scandinavia, from Denmark to the freezing cold of the Arctic seas and tundras. Here also the storytelling is nothing but great and you get pulled into a story that has more than one twist that will surprise.
So nothing but praise from me except for one thing and that is that I feel that the two parts - the mythical, epic layer of the Gods and the more quest-like layer of the two brothers - could have been integrated better, with especially some more screen time for the mythical part.It would have made the transitions between the two layers more fluid and less detached from each other. The result may have been a somewhat larger book but I think that wouldn't have been a bad thing at all!
That said, I can hardly wait for the next installment since this is a great mythical story that will have you up late in bed reading into the wee hours of the night. *** 4 stars ***
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on 1 June 2010
Werewolf fiction is something that really interests me, and in my time I've read everything from the most cliché driven bang 'n bite stories to some really well written, beautifully constructed and original novels. I had high hopes for Wolfsangel, and I'm pleased to say it fell very firmly in to the latter category.

I'm not so keen on any sort of historical fiction and my one concern was that I would find Wolfsangel heavy going because of that aspect. In fact it was very easy to get drawn in to, and the author managed to avoid my major issue with this area: language. Sometimes, in an attempt to avoid sounding too contempory, an author will go too far in the opposite direction and end up with something that sounds like an epic saga in it's own right. I felt this book was well written to place you within the time period and then let you concentrate on the story.

The story itself is an original take on the werewolf legend, and I'd say this is a must read for anyone who is a fan of Norse mythology, character-driven epics, or the kind of dark, dirty fantasy that a few other authors are doing so well. This is high quality writing, and I'm now looking forward to the next in the series.
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on 26 June 2010
Unfortunately, my reading experience is out of sync with most of the glowing reviews of this book. As many reviewers on here have already summarised the storyline, I will focus on the aspects that made this book less enjoyable for me.

Being an avid reader of Fantasy novels, I am constantly searching for new and exiting books to devour and the glowing reviews of Wolfsangel compelled me to give it a try. Predominantly, I use Fantasy as a temporary respite from reality in order to delve into an exciting new world. This book managed to leave a stale aftertaste after I emerged back to the surface of our world. This was mainly because Wolfsangel conveys a sense of impending and unescapable doom that starts with the opening scene and grows with every turned page until its defeatist conclusion.

Wolfsangel portrays a stark and unforgiving world in which the inhabitants are played by their grim gods, seemingly without an ounce of self-determination. The antagonists Odin and Loki use the protagonsists as their puppets to play out their eternal game of pain, betrayal, suffering, death and rebirth. If you like your Fantasy protagonists to have a hand in their own fate, this book is probably not for you.

Normally, I find Fantasy most enjoyable if it has some shades of black and gray. For example, The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie has some dark aspects but lightens it up with interesting quirks and dry humor. Similarly, The Song of Ice and Fire series by G.R.R. Martin manages to find a nice balance between gruesome storytelling and surprising or elevating aspects in its narrative. In contrast, Wolfsangel is a thoroughly grim and dark drama, leading the reader into the darkness towards its inevitably tragic ending.

Don't get me wrong; the book is well written and provides the reader with a nice glimpse into viking life and nordic mythology. If you like dramas and tragedies, I seriously recommend this book. For me it is a bit too dark and deterministic.

2 1/2 Stars
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