Engle (The Dredge, 2015, etc.) weaves Viking lore, animalistic shape-shifters, and coming-of-age adventure into a fantasy epic.
Arud Bergson lives near the woods with his mother, grandmother, and little sister. His father is a week late returning from a two-day trading trip, but Arud can’t go search for him because the shape-shifting, wolfish “ferine” in the nearby woods threaten his family. Instead, he and his sister, Lykke, must travel alone to Vithalia City and get the protection of their uncle. On the way, they encounter dangers, including a drop down a waterfall and possibly dangerous allies. For better or worse, the enigmatic, beautiful Scalvia agrees to be their guide, and from her family, Arud learns of a mysterious prophecy which may have far-reaching impact, not only for Arud, Lykke, and their journey, but also for all the residents of the lands around them; specifically, the fates of two species could be in their hands. Moreover, many will hunt Arud and Lykke, in order to use them in the oncoming conflict. If they’re lucky, they’ll evade capture until they can make it safely to their uncle; if not, the whole world could be devoured. This would be an unfortunate outcome, as the world Engle has created in this novel is an intriguing one, equal parts familiar and fantastic. One notable example is the thematic link between the wolflike ferine and the Viking gods that the characters revere. Unfortunately, the pagan piety comes across more as window dressing than as something important or significant to the characters. Otherwise, though, the characters have great emotional truth and are sure to appeal to younger readers; in particular, the relationship between Arud and Lykke, is notably satisfying. The journey on which they embark may be a fairly standard epic-fantasy jaunt, but it’s entertaining as the action progresses smoothly, if occasionally predictably, along a standard “chosen one” plotline.
A solid, journeyman effort that shows signs of trying to break free of epic-fantasy tropes but never truly flies.