Review: She Wolf by Dan Smith
‘What happened here wasn’t any kind of destiny; it was murder, and no one expects you to avenge it. Not even your Gods.’
(She Wolf by Dan Smith. P46.)
Viking girl Ylva washes up on the frozen shores of Northumbria, but her mother is killed. Ylva swears to avenge her memory as the Gods decree and sets out into the wild with her wolf Geri.
The land is wild, but it is not only the wolves that Ylva has to fear. She must also work out whether she can trust Cathryn and Bron, the Saxons who offer her shelter.
An epic tale of trust and the truest forms of bravery.
An epic historical adventure which reminded me of the works of Rosemary Sutcliff. Viking attitudes towards revenge were examined in a way which was both sensitive to the time period and relevant to the modern day.
Ylva’s quest for vengeance begins with her certainty, as a Viking, that it is her role. This is the only narrative she has ever heard and it is how her people live. In fact, as she discovers, it is how other tribal people live during the same time period. Cathryn begs Ylva not to go in search of vengeance, but she is set on it. The examination of the motives behind revenge and the use of religious belief to justify it was fascinating. It is also a lesson which might be relevant to much smaller scale problems. Sometimes, no matter what wrong someone has done us, the best thing is to let that be the last bit of damage.
It was great to see a narrative about fights and the quest for justice centered around girls. Although there are male characters, there are female warriors in the story with the same bloodthirst and ideas about vengeance. Girls need to believe they have a decision about when to pick a fight and to know that often the bravest thing you can do is turn away.
It was also great to see a novel about Vikings in Britain, and especially to see one with both Viking and Saxon characters. Too often these stories are told through a lens which favours one or the other so that even if there are characters of other nationalities, they are cast as antagonists and enemies. Life was more complex than that and it is important to understand that things are never so black and white.
This novel was all about setting, from the mounds of snow to the wolves howling through the pine trees. It is the kind of setting which you feel beneath your skin and imagine with every sense.
If you like adventure or want to know more about the time period, add this to your TBR pile.
She Wolf is available now from Chicken House Books, priced £6.99.
Many thanks to Chicken House Books and Laura Smythe PR for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.