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review 2019-06-11 06:52
Rambling Thoughts: Wolfskin
Wolfskin - Juliet Marillier


by Juliet Marillier
Book 1 of Saga of the Light Isles



All young Eyvind ever wanted was to become a great Viking warrior--a Wolfskin--and carry honor out in the name of his fathergod Thor.  The chance to make it happen is his when his chieftain Ulf brought the tale of a magical land across the sea where men with courage could go to conquer a land and bring glory to themselves.  They set out to find this fabled land, and discover a windswept and barren place, but one filled with unexpected beauty and hidden treasures... and a people who are willing to share their bounty.

Ulf's new settlement begins in harmony with the natives of the isles led by the gentle king Engus.  And Eyvind finds a treasure of his own in the young Nessa, niece of the King, seer and princess.  His life will change forever as she claims his heart for her own.

But someone has come along to this new land who is not what he seems--and to him Eyvind swore a childhood oath of lifelong loyalty.  Now he's calling in the debt of honor, but what he asks of Eyvind might just doom him to kill the only thing that Eyvind has ever truly loved.

Will the price of honor create the destruction of all that Eyvind holds dear?

I hate to say this, but this book pretty much gave away its entire plot in the beginning during the "tale" that one of Eyvind's Wolfskin brothers tells, about the honorable warrior who chose loyalty over love, thus killing the girl he was to marry because his mentor wanted vengeance against her people... or some such nonsense... and then ended up living a life of regret and sorrow.

This is definitely not my favorite Juliet Marillier book, and I had considered giving up on it at least twice.  Truth be told, I had a hard time finding any character to relate to or like, and found myself a bit frustrated with everyone, if only because of the whole "blind loyalty and honor" crap that was being thrown around.  But Marillier has a way of writing that is magical and draws you in when you least expect it.  And so I persevered, being both determined and too stubborn to give up, if only because I wanted to know how Eyvind's tale would end differently than the tale that was told by the Wolfskin brother at the beginning of the book.  Because I knew it would, if only because the laws of plot twists kind of dictate it... sort of.

As I'd already mentioned, I had a hard time liking ANYONE in this entire book... save maybe Rona, the wise woman, just because she seems to be the only voice of reason, as brief as her appearances are.

I had a brief discussion with a friend about this book when I was a little over 25% into it, wherein some of the main adventure was starting, but wherein you already had an idea how everything was going to progress.  And even though my friend was not also reading this book, after what I told her about it, we both decided that Eyvind's so-called friend, Somerled, was not really much of a friend at all, and we both wondered why they were even still friends.  But yes, I know--loyalty, and honor, and blood oaths, and such.

I get that Eyvind felt the need to protect and stick by Somerled's side, no matter how terrible of a person he was, no matter how toxic his behavior and words were, and no matter how many others in the community he managed to successfully alienate because he didn't seem to understand how to be polite... or even tactful, for that matter.  Eyvind was all about the honor and the loyalty and following commands from his warfather, Thor, or his chieftain, without asking questions--that was how he grew up and that was how he understood life.

Somerled was a bonafide drama queen, wallowing in his own angst, always complaining about the fact that no one cares about him, and no one likes him.  But then he'd turn around and spout off terrible things, insulting everyone around him, even Eyvind without even caring that he was doing so.  And this wasn't even a lack of self-awareness in Somerled's behavior--this person was very much conscious of what he was saying, what he was doing, and you could tell that he felt himself superior to everyone else, and so he didn't care who he hurt or pissed off.  Everything he did or said was carefully calculated to cut as deep as possible, and so no matter how lonely and pathetic he was portrayed to be, I just couldn't see any of it as justification for his behavior, to be honest.

He's implied on multiple occasions that he thinks of Eyvind as a simpleton, who only knows how to fight, kill, and go to war, often telling him to stick to what he knows, because he believes it's obviously hard for Eyvind to try thinking with his brains.  He manipulates Eyvind's friendship with his self-pity, and then he throws Eyvind's loyalty in his face whenever Eyvind even so much as disagrees with him.  If this is how Somerled treats the only friend he has, then I already had an idea how he was going to treat everyone else, especially his enemies.

He insults women with innuendos of what he believes their worth is, which, if you can imagine, is not terribly nice or acceptable.

And so it frustrated me to no end that Eyvind continued to stand by Somerled's side in spite of all the suspicions he has about Somerled: the rape of a girl, or even the strategic murder of a man made to look like an accident...  It boggled the mind how Eyvind could continue to blindly stay loyal to Somerled even though you could see him feeling conflicted about Somerled's toxic behavior, or his suspected wrong-doings.

The book started picking up more when Eyvind meets Nessa.  Their interactions are a bit deliberate, and their romance extremely insta, but that didn't really bug me too much.  Nessa was a great heroine, and I liked that we got to see more than just Eyvind's POV regarding Somerled and the evil tyranny that started taking place.  In fact, I actually enjoyed more of the book when Somerled wasn't in the picture, which is strange considering how I DO like a good villain with some depth.  But somehow, Somerled was so cliched and so predictable that I had issues with him.

On top of that, I felt like he was way overpowered.  Really, Somerled held onto his power with a simple ideal of blind loyalty.  While I might have understood the blind loyalty, I never understood why everyone around him was so afraid to go against him.  Somerled is not physically strong, nor does he have any otherworldly power.  If the Wolfskins really wanted to, they could overthrow him if they felt he was overstepping his authority in his lust for power and control over the Light Isles, blind loyalty be damned.  I mean, I find it hard to believe that Eyvind is the only one of the Wolfskins, or even of the settlement of Norsemen, who realized Somerled had broken all the rules of fair warfare and battle.  That he wasn't leading his people to simply winning a kingdom, but massacring helpless villagers and enslaving women and children.

I had a hard time believing that no one else would have been against Somerled, or that the ones who didn't agree with his ways simply slunk off quietly to evade notice.  Especially since many of the Wolfskins who had been Somerled's brother, Ulf's, followers knew him for a conniving, unwanted troublemaker in the beginning.

Marillier DOES touch upon a good point that might have explained the Norsemen's eagerness to follow Somerled into the slaughter of the islanders, though.  There's an implication that the islanders's culture and spiritualism produced fear among the Norsemen who'd settled.  After the death of Ulf, Somerled used the unknown mysticism surrounding the islanders and the Light Isles, to rally his cause, by insisting that typical warfare could not be used against them if they wanted to win this war.  And so those who followed Somerled were willing to cut down all the helpless islanders because of their prejudices and Somerled's misrepresentation.

It makes a kind of sad sort of sense, really, but that doesn't make it right, and it doesn't mean I have to like it.  But it IS human nature, as much as I hate to admit it.

Anyway, aside from my complaints about Somerled, the rest of the book was actually pretty good.  The writing was excellent, the story premise was promising, and I liked Nessa... to an extent, because she had her moments where I didn't really care about her.  The writing might have gotten a little overboard in flowery prose, but nothing that dragged or felt like stuffing.

I may or may not continue with the next book in this duology just for completion's sake, but I probably won't be rushing out to find access to it too quickly.



Booklikes-opoly 2019

Roll #4:  (See also Memorial Day Bonus Roll Activities)
Square:  The Summer Blockbuster 27 | Read a book that features a hero's journey or is a Bildungsroman (coming of age tale), or that has a word related to space in the title (i.e., star, planet, rocket).

How it fits:  This book is a hero's journey.
Page Count:  516
Cash:  $5




Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2019/06/rambling-thoughts-wolfskin.html
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review 2013-03-01 00:00
Wolfskin (Saga of the Light Isles Series #1)
Wolfskin - Juliet Marillier After my ever-so-slightly-disappointed encounter with Son of the Shadows, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Wolfskin. It can be a painful process to read the work of a beloved author with the knowledge that the novel in your hands is good, but it isn’t the outstanding masterpiece you were expecting, and I did my best to avoid another Marillier novel because of my fear of that very feeling. Even more disturbing, though, is the fact that virtually none of my friends have read Wolfskin and the public reviews I had to go by promised that readers would either love this tale of Vikings or feel drastically apathetic towards it. Needless to say, I cracked open the spine of Wolfskin with shaking fingers, but by the end of the first paragraph itself, I knew, without a doubt, that I had discovered another legendary story from Juliet Marillier; one I would undoubtedly display on my shelves next to Daughter of the Forest itself. In the cold settlement of Rogaland, young Eyvind dreams of becoming a Wolfskin, an honored Viking warrior who hears the voice of Thor himself in battle. When Ulf, a visionary chieftain, arrives during the winter with his younger brother, Somerled, in tow, Eyvind and Somerled strike an unlikely friendship. Although Somerled is strange, taciturn, and refuses to make any friends beyond Eyvind himself, the two become blood brothers, swearing a life-long oath of loyalty to one another. Years later, Somerled secures Eyvind a spot on the ship of his elder brother who seeks to voyage to faraway islands of fable. Once there, Ulf establishes a peaceful friendship with King Engus and the islanders – a time of joy that is broken with the ruthless murder of Ulf. It is now that Eyvind begins to witness the cunning, ambitious persona that lies under the quiet exterior of his friend as he comes to question not only his loyalty towards Thor – whose battle cry he no longer wishes to follow – but also towards his childhood friend, who asks him to sacrifice the one woman he holds most dear. From the first few pages of Wolfskin itself, a dark, ominous tone is set for the novel. It is the type of creeping feeling there isn’t a name for; the kind where you know terrible events are about to unfold, but you can’t do much about it. What Marillier excels in with Wolfskin is the blurring of lines between good and evil. Although it is established from the very beginning of this tale that Somerled is not necessarily a good person, we see the goodness in him, alongside the evil. We see him create a new type of knot just so he can trap animals and watch as they die, but we also see him risk his life to save that of Eyvind’s. We see that he is a clever and intelligent young man, once timid and afraid of others, but we also see his glowing ambition. At its heart, Wolfskin is the tale of these two friends, of the adventures they’ve experienced together and of the dreams that have brought them to where they are in life. We experience the inner battle that Eyvind faces, that of confronting his childhood friend or dealing with the guilt of not having stopped him before. Marillier makes us see the grays of these two characters so deeply, their flaws right alongside their goodness that it is impossible to know where to place blame and where to weep.As you can imagine, Wolfskin is a dark tale. Its pages contain rape, murder, suicide, massacres, and heavy violence, but still, it remains a story of love and hope.* Unlike the previous Marillier novels I’ve read, Wolfskin is not simply narrated from one perspective; rather, it shifts between the third-person perspectives of Eyvind and Nessa, a priestess and the niece of King Engus. Although Nessa and Eyvind come from different races of now-warring people, the two are drawn to each by fate and their love only offers them greater faith and strength in a time of desolation. Furthermore, their bond is a feeling, one that carries them through the difficult paths they face alone and the respect, equality, and understanding between the two is unrivaled by any other literary couple I have come across as yet. One of the themes that stood out to me throughout the duration of Wolfskin was that of faith. We have literal faith in that the Vikings believe in Thor, the people of the island in their spirits, and even a priest in Christianity. Yet, Wolfskin is not a religious book. It shows us how faith drives our lives – faith in something, whether it be divine or otherwise – and even when our faith in one thing is broken, something else invariably comes along to replace it. Until, that is, we are stripped of everything but our faith in ourselves. Wolfskin explores, so poignantly, of what humans are capable when pushed to their limits, when they have nothing and no one to turn to but themselves and their allies and whether, at the end, their faith stands the true test of time, come what may. Nessa, in particular, as a priestess is constantly told that she will embark on a journey in which she must be prepared to go on, despite losing everything and everyone she holds dear. It is for the strength and compassion she displays on this journey that she will go down as one of my most inspirational protagonists of all time. In addition to literal faith, though, Marillier explores the faith we put in other people, the trust we place in them to do what is right. With Somerled and Eyvind especially, she doesn’t hesitate to break our hearts, time and time again, especially as she builds an attachment to both these characters, despite the flaws that they possess. Ironically enough, I found myself patting myself on the back as I neared the end of this novel for not shedding a single tear. Naturally, I found myself bawling during one particular scene during the last chapter – a scene that continues to take my breath away. It is through this subtle inflection of faith that Marillier enables her characters to grow, making them build that faith within themselves that is formerly lacking, and even the complexity of relationships she builds, no matter how trivial, continue to build throughout the novel, culminating in an ending that is simply utter genius. Like Daughter of the Forest, this novel has forced me to re-evaluate my own life and look out upon it with different eyes. Juliet Marillier, I can only thank you for writing such life-changing masterpieces. From the bottom of my duct-taped heart. *I just want to re-iterate that Wolfskin, although containing characters who are in their teens, is really not for teenagers. If you are not comfortable with any of the subjects I mentioned, or with novels that contain sex, I’d suggest a more light-hearted novel by Juliet Marillier like Shadowfell instead. You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings.
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