Spader tells the story of a tormented medieval wolf demon in this debut novel.
In this first installment of a fantasy series, the year is 782, and King Karl of the Franks attempts to consolidate his hold on Saxony, converting the Saxons to Christianity and stamping out the last vestiges of paganism. Enter Gerwulf, a half-Frankish, half-Saxon Wulfhedinn (wolf demon): “His mother baptized the boy a Christian, but that did not drive out his father’s beast. She sent him to the monastery to shield him from the demon, but the boy defied God and embraced the wolf spirit.” Forever seeking a way to purify his soul and quiet the beast within him, Gerwulf sneaks into Karl’s camp, hoping to steal a holy relic, but a chance encounter with a mad monk leads him to change his plans. The monk recruits Gerwulf to serve Karl: the king sends the wolf demon on a mission to track down Widukind, the last rebellious Saxon lord. Widukind is rumored to be hiding out at an old sacred site deep in the Teutoburg Forest, surrounded by his own band of wolf warriors and protected by the magic of a powerful witch. If Gerwulf can help bring Widukind to heel, Karl promises that the tortured Wulfhedinn’s soul can be saved, in this world and the next. But to find salvation, Gerwulf must first embrace his own demon. Spader writes in an easy, rambling prose that luxuriates in all the medieval details of her world, from the weapons to the textiles to the smells of camps and woods. Gerwulf is plagued by an interior monologue that represents the heathen inside him, rendered as free verse and a bit reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon poetry: “I approach the king, high upon his throne / …abandon the wolf pelt / Stripped to fresh pink skin, my back whole / Kneeling.” The book strikes an appealing balance between historical fiction, sword and sorcery, and a noirish detective story, with quick pacing and just enough worldbuilding to lend weight to the plot. Sequels are planned, and they are welcome: the reader should be eager to see what other secrets Spader’s vast medieval forests might yield.
A compelling start to a historical fantasy series about a troubled warrior seeking redemption.