Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier’s past work has integrated Irish mythology with tales of battle and sacrifice. In her newest book, although she remains in the general vicinity of the Emerald Isle, Marillier has shifted her focus to the Orkney Islands and their Viking settlers. Wolfskin is a tale of the love between a berserker and a priestess.
Eyvind’s greatest ambition is to be a Wolfskin, a mighty warrior directly inspired by the god Thor. When Eyvind achieves his goal, he thinks that life can offer nothing better than such service. But a childhood friend, Somerled, will lead him into a life beyond anything imagined. When they and others journey across the ocean to settle in the mysterious lands past the sunset, Eyvind confronts the possibility of a life without battle or his god.
Nessa, priestess of an ancient land, also is the niece of the islands’ high king. She, too, will find her world turned upside-down by Somerled when the Vikings arrive at her home. Although the expedition’s leader desires nothing but peace, Somerled has much greater ambitions. Murder and broken treaties soon threaten the islanders’ stability and well-being, and Nessa and Eyvind must try to forge some kind of path through the ruin that threatens to engulf them all in catastrophe.
Wolfskin, although a good story, suffers a bit from an excess of wandering; that is, the characters frequently travel to and from various places and events, which takes the focus away from the action.
The novel could have been 100 pages shorter and delivered a tighter story.
It also would have been nice had the narrative included more of the supernatural. Marillier gives readers tantalizing glimpses of the rituals binding a berserker to Thor, and the secret island locations where one can access the hidden powers. The author does eventually show the Orkney Islands’ mystical beings, but only after more than three-quarters of the book have passed. Infusing the story as a whole with such events would have made the tale stronger.
This doesn’t make Wolfskin a bad novel. It’s simply not as strong as Marillier’s previous efforts, and Wolfskin had the potential to have been even better. Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable read.
The next novel, Foxmask, might take up some of the slack left by this trilogy’s first volume.