Eyvind lives in snowy Rogaland where the Viking warriors called Wolfskins are honored above all. Every waking minute he longs for the day when he is old enough and skilled enough with bow and sword to answer god Thor’s call and become a Wolfskin himself. In his training, he meets Somerled, the small, strange brother of the respected chieftain Ulf, who has neither friends nor survival skills. Over a summer of fishing, hunting, and combat, they become blood brothers. And strangely, years later it is quiet, in-the-background Somerled who secures Eyvind’s chance to earn his place as the King’s right-hand Wolfskin on a risky expedition to find the mysterious Light Isles. Unbeknown to Eyvind there will not be much need for fighting at first, and Somerled’s quietness belies the cunning, ambitious man underneath. The native Folk are peaceful people willing to share their cold, untouched land, and the first treaty Ulf agrees to is peace. But soon enough and under dire circumstances the Warfather Thor will call, and Eyvind won’t be so sure to answer him. Worst of all Somerled is calling in his blood-sworn loyalty against the very rare beauty Eyvind’s found worth loving and fighting for.
This under-read historical novel set in Norway and the Orkney Islands by Juliet Marillier has cemented her place as one of my few beloved authors. Everything is here: the painstaking historical accuracy and attention to detail, the hard-won love story, and two protagonists overcoming great, dooming hardships of work and endurance before earning their bought and paid for happily ever after – all, of course, lined with the trademark magic of legend which naturally eases its way into the story. Again, these people and places feel like they exist, the events a part of history. Though Wolfskin builds slowly from Eyvind’s boyhood to his departure on the grand Viking vessel Golden Dragon, the investment is worth the payoff. Evyind and Somerled’s bond is something the reader experiences firsthand. Without it, our multifaceted understanding of Somerled’s character and their relationship would not be possible. Instead of being black or white, I found it impossible to hate Somerled and rather sympathized with his plight. I also identified with simple-minded Eyvind and his conflicted honor. Like him we all underestimate our own potential and capacity for greatness. Ignoring the tiny pain I feel in reading the last book in Marillier’s backlist I can not wait to open Foxmask.