WOLF WINTER | CECILIA EKBACK | BOOK REVIEW

is a thrilling creepy mystery debut novel from that released in February of this year from the fine folks at Hachette Australia. Not the usual cup of tea for our reading machine, Kernel Fiona, she was quickly swept up in its sheer awesomeness and below advises why you should get on board for this wonderful fable. WOLF WINTER is available from all bookstores or you can purchase it HERE. Enjoy Fi’s review…….all the best……JK.

 

WOLF WINTER | CECILIA EKBACK | BOOK COVER IMAGE
WOLF WINTER | CECILIA EKBACK | SALTY POPCORN | BOOK COVER IMAGE

 

BY

I’m going to start this review by saying that WOLF WINTER started out being the sort of book I would never otherwise read. A period piece set in in 1717 teeming with elements, sorcery and Nordic religious practices did not, at first blush, appeal to me one iota. Happily, I soon became thoroughly engrossed with the three protagonists and their respective stories.

Ekback is a Swedish writer who left her homeland in her early twenties to live abroad. Although she says it is now easier for her to write in English, it is not without great struggle, translation difficulties and a whole lot of assistance from proof readers. WOLF WINTER is her debut novel.

In Swedish, Wolf Winter or Vargavinter refers to an unusually lengthy and bitter season, as well as the darkest of time’s in a person’s life. Essentially, the dark night (or winter) of the soul. The old Nordic religions talked about “fimbulvetr” or “large winter” that heralded the destruction of the world. Fimbulvetr took place when the head of the wolves, Fenrisulven, had eaten the sun. Certainly wolves are a recurring theme in this book both in a physical sense and in the form of evil spirits.

 

WOLF WINTER | CECILIA EKBACK | BOOK COVER IMAGE
WOLF WINTER | CECILIA EKBACK | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | BOOK COVER IMAGE

 

The story begins with the discovery in the woods of a corpse by two young Finnish sisters, Frederika and Dorotea. Their parents, Maija and Paava have emigrated from Finland and set up home in a remote settlement area in Sweden known as . When the discovery of the body is brought to the attention of the Priest, he begins an investigation into the matter. The Lutheran church he represents is an ecclesiastical one and so criminal matters are investigated and tried under Church laws. There is some suggestion that the deceased, Eriksson, has been killed by wolves. Given that the victim has a single, clean incision across his throat, Maija is convinced it is a murder rather than an animal attack.

The novel is told from three different perspectives. Olaus, the young priest who has arrived on Blackasen Mountain under mysterious circumstances, is a character one finds very easy to warm to. Intelligent and confident, he wrestles with his own demons as he single-mindedly sets out to uncover the truth behind Erikkson’s death. Previously he was employed in the King’s Court and developed a close and loving bond with the Monarch. He cannot understand then, why he has been banished to a remote, rural settlement. He feels certain this must be the work of his nemesis, the Bishop rather than a direct order from the King.

Altruistic and kind by nature, he has allowed the widow of the former priest, Sofia to remain at the parish beyond her allotted tenancy. Sofia is beautiful and erudite and it is suggested to Olaus that he ask her to marry him as she would be highly suitable as a parish wife. This concept brings more anxiety for Olaus who eventually finds himself drawn to Maija, the forthright Finn. When Maija’s husband Paavo leaves before the first snow of winter to find work on the coast, the two are drawn together in a bid to uncover the secrets that Blackasen Mountain and its sparse community are hiding.

Maija is a strong character and although the time in which she lives is both restrictive and oppressive for women, she nevertheless remains staunch in her views and manages to survive a brutal winter, alone in her cottage with her daughters and very little food. Maija possesses spiritual gifts that she has tried hard to ignore but still communes with her deceased grandmother Jutta who acts as her guide. Maija is well aware that her eldest, Frederika is strongly connected to the spirit world and has powerful supernatural abilities. She fears for her daughter’s safety given that many women in the community have been tried and burned for practising sorcery including Maija’s own mother. As a result the two women are in constant conflict with Frederika rejecting her mother’s advice and behaving in an actively hostile manner towards her.

 

 

The author says that the priest and Maija are her favourite characters. I can’t help but feel that Frederika is somehow the most interesting of the three, displaying enormous inner strength and wisdom for a teenage girl. Frederika has the ability to commune with the deceased Erikkson and asks him to help her solve the mystery of his death and reveal to her the reasons why his wife Elin was tried on charges of sorcery but given a last minute reprieve by the Bishop. Elin too is a likeable character albeit somewhat enigmatic and cryptic. It is with great distress then, that Frederika learns of Elin’s fate and the terrible choice she has made. Eriksson urges her to expose the reasons behind Elin’s breakdown and to look for other people in the community who are also damaged by pain. For it will be there that Frederika will find the reasons behind the secrecy and fear that grips the town and that ultimately destroys Elin.

Intrinsic to the complex plot we have the sinister Bishop, the broken down ex-soldier, Gustav, the shady nobleman Nils and his equally dubious wife, Kristina, the seemingly philanthropic school teacher, Lundgren and the Lapps – Fearless and Antii who are known to possess psychic abilities and who still practise magical rituals. The Lapps align themselves with Frederika and provide her with the spiritual guidance she needs to solve the riddles of Blackasen Mountain and to do battle with the demons that plague her that will ultimately threaten her life.

To discuss the range of issues that the book explores would be to provide a complete plot spoiler. Instead I will leave you with a quote and trust that should you read this novel, you too will become utterly enthralled by the characters and their fates.

“What could make a mother kill her children? Only madness. Not the enduring, dull, weakness of mind; no – an abrupt plunge into unspeakable darkness.”

 

4 Pops