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The setting for this book - Swedish Lapland - really intrigued me. How people can live there NOW, never mind the early 18th century boggles the mind. Billed as a thriller, it’s got plenty of murder and treachery, but the pace is slow and the menace of a more psychological bent. There’s also a supernatural aspect that irritated me whenever it came up. I mean, living at the end of the earth in the arctic circle isn’t hard enough?
That’s an aspect of the novel that never let up - the realistic portrayal of subsistence living in the extreme north. The details about blizzards, farming, hunting, butchering, starving, frostbite, religious persecution, political scheming and weighing up sacrifices were all sharply rendered. There is no village per se, but the people, known to each other as settlers, almost always bond together and do their best to help each other out when the worst happens. That doesn’t mean all is rosy. No, there’s a worm in the heart of this withered blossom and it’s murder. The killing breeds suspicion and superstition and of course most of it falls on the newcomer and healer, Maija. Fear is a terrible thing for us humans. It makes us do the stupidest things.
The way the novel is told is pretty oblique and much of the insight comes from Maija, not that her fellow settlers thank her for it. Every time she comes into their crosshairs she raises reasonable doubt that sets them on the path to the truth. Of course nothing is as it seems and events that appear connected turn out not to be and more than one villain is hiding among them. Many of the main characters are women and the shortage of men (death, desertion and conscription) means that though they are still treated as 2nd class citizens, most of them speak their minds and deal with the harshness of life head on. Dorotea’s fate is particularly heartbreaking.
Majia’s daughter Frederika is also trying to solve the mystery of Erikson’s death. She has a more direct and dangerous reason though; Erikson himself. His ghost follows her and torments her with cryptic remarks and even manages to cut her severely with a knife. I just love how the resident Lapps tell her not to mess with the spirits etc, when she has no choice. And Erikson isn’t the only threat, both Frederika and her mother encounter wolves who aren’t the only ones starving on Blackåsen mountain.
A bit meandering, but written with real bite and an affinity for the darkness that rules Swedish Lapland half the year.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Wolf Winter to be better than the print version?
I appreciated the narrator helping me pronounce some of Swedish words that I was unaccustomed to, but over all no, not better. About the same. Bresnahan did a great job reading the story and I was certainly enthralled, but I don't think she added anything to it that wasn't already on the page.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Toss up between Fredericka and the Priest, neither of whom impressed me much for the first half of the book, but both really came into their own by the end.
Any additional comments?
Great story. The pacing is slow and deliberate for the first three-quarters of the book. At times almost painfully slow. But events start snowballing (pardon the pun) into a rush of revelations at the end. Others have griped about this, but I found that perfectly in line with standard mystery plots. While this story feels more like historical fiction, it is, at its heart, a mystery to be solved.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful