Friday, 28 February 2014

Sons of the Wolf reviewed by Linda Root


There is a signed copy of this book to be won, see the bottom of page for details. 

There is a village in pre-Norman Sussex called  Horstede which  has been invaded by a time traveler, or so it seems. I am tempted to speculate that not  even a member of Regia Anglorum like author Paula Lofting could create a story like Sons of the Wolf unless she had lived among them.  I suspect that in spirit, indeed she has.  Her novel  is the product of a writer who not only loves her subject and knows it well, but also knows her craft.  As I read the opening pages, I can smell the woodsmoke and feel the warmth of the greetings of the villagers as protagonist Wulfhere and his right hand man Esegar return from a bloodly battle as the opening curtain rises.  I remain a captive of the story until its final page, and best of all, beyond. Thankfully there is a sequel coming.



Any meticulously researched and authentically presented historical  novel set in a well known milieu faces the risk that devotion to historical truth  may become its own spoiler. Such is not the case with Sons of the Wolf. To avoid the common pitfall,  Lofting has masterfully selected two characters from the pages of Doomsday Book about whom little is known. The only references is to their names –Wulfhere and Helghi—and the amount of land they owned. Their respective societal ranks can be guessed from a notation as to the size of their respective estates. The balance is  Lofting’s creation.

Wulfhere is the thegn of Horstede and Helghi’s superior in rank. Helghi also  is a landowner but a tier below his rival. Their families have been fueding for years, and the conflict brings out the worst of each. Their  abiding hatred forges their destiny and contaminates others. Wulfhere is a  good man who seeks to do the right thing, but he does not always like it. Helghi is the consummate villain,  obsessed with bringing Wulfhere to his knees, and willingly sacrifices the future and the well-being of his family to do so.

When the historical character Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and brother-in-law of King Edward seeks to reconcile Wulfhere and Helghi, he sets events in motion that make matters worse.
After I read the initial four chapters of the book I put it down, not because I did not like it, but because I was utterly unfamiliar with its historical context.  My intense study of British history is framed by the  Plantegenets on one end and the Marlboros on the other. What I knew of the Norman invasion could be  summarized in a  line  from the 1953 movie Young Bess.  Says adolescent  Elizabeth, "England has never been invaded, except by the Normans, who do not count because they were us."  What I knew of Anglo Saxon Britain would have scarcely filled a journal page. I  profited from  spending  a few minutes on Wikipedea,  and once I had a better understanding of what transpired in Britain in the years immediately prior to 1066, I was ready for a breathtaking, violent, fast and furious and often heart-rending ride through the years before the Normans came.

*Horstede (AKA Wychurst)

The protagonist of Lofting’s tale is Wulfhere, a great bear of a man, who is a creature of principal, although he often wishes he were  not. He is a loyal servant of the king and of Harold Godwinson, earl of Wessex,  but he is also the guardian of  Horstede and the protector of his family, and his loyalties and responsibilities often come in conflict. And that is a dilemma for a man who attempts to be all things to everyone.

As early as his homecoming in the first chapers  of the book, we  sense his guilt for having lived when others have not, and his stress  due to the horrors he has witnessed. He and  his wife had quarelled before he left and he worries that his homecoming will not be as joyous as he would like. Because of the carnage he has witnessed, he returns not as a victor but as a survivor.

When his wife  Ealdgytha greets him with open arms, we question whether  her joy in  his safe return  has more to do with matters of her personal security than any great affection she feels for Wulfhere. As the scene develops, we realize that she is sincere in her welcome.  She, too, has personal desires and physical  needs. Wulfhere is suspicious,  but takes what pleasure he is offered. Their shared joy is only on the surface and it is short lived.

Due to Wulfhere’s  past infidelity and the tensions of his fued with Helghi, soon his family is falling apart. His twin sons are undisciplined, his wife runs hot and cold, he is estranged from his lover Alfgyva and the restraint he exercises  in dealing with his traditional enemy Helghi in order to please Harold Godwinson is not working. In addition, his favorite daughter Freyda’s romance with Helghi’s  son only makes matters worse, and provides a weapon that Wulfhere’s enemy Helghi uses against him.  Nevertheless, true to his nature, Wulfhere tries  to hold it all together, and it is there that the intrigues begin.

Lofting takes those facts and builds her storyline from there.  Then she  adds her own considerable knowledge of the sociology and politics of eleventh century Saxon England. Next  she adds to the mix all of the ingredients that  make a novel of any genre readable--love, sex, hate, jealousy, remorse, guilt, infidelity, vengeance,  death and profound tragedy. And to all of that, she  adds her  incredible talent for bringing blood and gore into her action scenes without overpowering the essence of her story, and writes her action scenes as if she were riding in the van.

Readers  will almost  smell the copper of the blood and feel the weight of the dead.  One can actually sense the terror of erstwhile proud and mighty warhorses as they, too, face slaughter. Her knowledge of medieval warfare puts her at the head of the pack of those writing in the medieval military subgenre. It is as if Lofting siezes the reader, puts a weapon in her readers' hands and sends them into the fray. No writer I have  encountered  does battlefield action better, not even Oliver Stone, and like Stone in his masterpiece Platoon, Lofting captures the pathos.

War horses

Without spoiling the story, be assured that a reader will acquire enough insight into the politics of the day to understand a bit of what King Edward was facing, and to explore the character of the king’s brother-in-law Harold Godwinson, his lady and the plotters who threaten  them. The  reader –even one who knows nothing about 1066--will sense  that William of Normandy is coming, and that he is bringing change. But a  more immediate and equally formidable danger  is threatening Wulfhere—a menace that lurks no farther away than his bad neighbor Helghi’s nearby lodge. When Wulfhere’s concern for his family collides  with the fealty he owe to Harold and the king, he  does the best he can to balance one against the other and in doing so, he suffers an egregious loss. Although few of the issues facing him and his family  are resolved in the final pages of this first novel in the series, the reader is not left frustrated or  dissatisifed, but with a sense that while a stage of  Wulfhere’s life has come to an end, the most challenging and eventful chapters in his adventure are yet to come.

While this is primarily Wulfhere’s story, he does not stand alone. Much of the plot is driven by the teenage libido of our hero’s daughter and our villain’s son. The  place of the historical character Harold Godwinson and that of his wife and  his sister Edith are well portrayed, and Helghi is definitely an easy one to hate. The vowel-rich spelling of medieval names and  places makes the first chapters difficult for the unanointed, but worth the effort. Lofting cleverly prefaces her story in a brief recount of an actual  event involving two aristocratic boys whose abduction sets in motion the tensions that culminate in 1066. The Norman invasion had its own version of the  princes in the tower long before either Richard III or Alison Weir came along.  The fate of the boys is mentioned  periodically throughout the book, but not to the extent of making Wulfhere’s tale into Harold’s story. The storyline has just enough historical reference points to place it in the eve of the invasion without reducing Wulfhere and his family to minor characters in an overwhelming historical event. This is not a tale of William of Normandy, who does not appear. Nor is it a story of the very compelling historical person Harold Godwin. From beginning to end, it is Wulfhere’s story.

I love this book. It is Paula Lofting’s first  novel. And yes, there is a sequel, The Wolf Banner, coming soon to my bookshelf.



* Wychurst is owned by the members of the Re-enactment Society Regia Anglorum
Paula Lofting’s book Sons of the Wolf is available at Amazon, and as a paperback.  The sequel to Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner, will be available soon.


Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook thread to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy anywhere you are in the world!


Paula, ready to rumble



Linda Root is the author of the four titles in the Queen of Scots Suite. A fifth book, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge,  is coming  in the spring.


22 comments:

  1. Wonderful review. I loved this book and can't wait for the sequel.

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  2. A truly wonderful review! I too love this book and I am so looking forward to the next one.

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  3. Deirdre O'Mahony28 February 2014 at 04:42

    I haven't read this book yet, but it is on my wishlist. This is a very helpful review, giving enough of the plot to pique one's interest, without giving away the story. I really look forward to diving into this book!

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  4. Fantastic review! Really entices the reader to get hold of a copy of Paula's book as soon as possible

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  5. Many thanks to Linda Root for this wonderful review!

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  6. It's so good to see an author setting a novel in this fascinating but much neglected period of English history. Anglo-Saxon England was a wealthy, sophisticated and largely civilised society. It is said that history is written by the victors and that is certainly true of the Norman Conquest. William was after England's wealth and swept aside so much that was valuable in English culture and society as well as oppressing the people. I look forward to reading this, as it's a period I find fascinating.

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    1. Thank you Ann, you are so right in your deduction about the conquest. I aim to show the devastation through the eyes of the English but first one must know the background and that's where we are at in the first boook Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner is the sequel I'm currently finishing up and will be published in the Spring.

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  7. My favourite era! I'd love to win this...

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  8. It was indeed a pleasure to review this marvelous book. I would love a hard copy of this signed by Paula, and i truly am at the head of the line when it comes to purchasing Wolf Banner.

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  9. This review is persuasive because it not only tells us the reviewer's feelings about the book but also gives considerable weight to assessment of specific aspects of the author's craftsmanship. Fiction has rarely explored the Anglo-Saxon era of British history; this makes the novel quite attractive to me. From Linda Root's account I feel confident that I would thoroughly enjoy Paula Lofting's narrative.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Stephen! This particular era is a favourite of mine because it shows that are ancestors were alive and kicking well before the Normans came!

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  10. sounds like an interesting story good luck

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  11. Paula, it was nearly at the top of my TBR pile and this review has just bumped it up there!

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  12. I love a book that is well researched!

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  13. This book sounds like one that I would really like. I don't know much about this time period but would love to learn more through historical fiction.

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    1. Hi Terry
      can you let me have your email please you have won the signed copy draw!

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  14. Linda, this is such a fabulous review on so many levels--enticing and smoothly written, but I also love the way you take readers through the emotions of the novel's birth, a step-by-step, as it were, bringing them to the era by explaining Paula's attraction (and how it can be ours as well) and the links between events and her creation of the characters' stories. And done in such a professional yet also poetic way--logical yet reaches out to people's souls.

    This review is such a perfect match for this most wonderful novel, which grabbed me in a way few others have. I was a tad intimidated by the era, but Paula brought me to it and I grew to care for the characters, the era, the history, all that happened--in a way I never knew I could or would. It has also opened me up to reading of other eras I'd been slightly wary of, which to me is a great thing because history must never be forgotten. Paula Lofting uses her immense talent to brings these people's stories to us so we can always remember the individuals they were, and what they gave so we could have.

    Brava to both of you!!! I can hardly wait for the sequel!!!!!!

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  15. This sounds like a cracking good read, I'd love to have a chance to win this book

    Libby

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  16. What a great review. i would love to read this!

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