950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Sons of the Wolf (Updated, With Giveaway)

Please see below for your chance to win one of two copies of

Sons of the Wolf

by Paula Lofting. 

Winner of the indieB.R.A.G. Medallion

In June 2013 I read and reviewed Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf, an endeavor that initially unnerved me, given my lack of study since school into Anglo-Saxon times and the seemingly endless, complex detail I imagined overwhelming and intimidating me. I was, however, to receive a marvelously splendid surprise in my response to the debut novel, which I found to be a most rewarding read. I cared about the characters and, perhaps a true test of any story’s gripping power, wanted to read more, so was pleased to learn of a planned sequel, The Wolf Banner, which has since been released and will also be discussed in these pages.

Since being beckoned into the Anglo-Saxon world I have been reading bits of history here and there, both awestruck and grieved by the real people of the time: their difficult lives and how they persevered to find joy, what they endured to carry on. I have always valued learning about the “regular” people of any given era, and this one brought me closer to them than in any other I have studied, for which I will always be grateful. They are, after all, our people, without whom we would not be.

In this 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings leading to the Norman Conquest of England, we remember those long-ago events, write and read about them, keep them alive  for future generations also to pass on in remembrance of the those who fought and lost so much. With ongoing exploration of the period, only now are we realizing the magnitude of the cultural loss suffered when the English language was suppressed in favor of the invading French. With this study, however, the loss has been at least partially reversed, as today we retain some knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon culture, rich with art, literature, language, history and more. In thankfulness and appreciation we hold that understanding for those who passed it to us, or died trying.

Please join us in remembering 1066, throughout the rest of this year, with book reviews, guest posts, interviews (you may be surprised who we chat to!) poetry and more from a group of authors whose talents and contributions are immeasurably treasured.

We begin the series today with an updated review and examination of Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf, set in the years approaching 1066.

To read the original review for Sons of the Wolf, click here.

For your chance to win an e-copy of Sons of the Wolf, simply comment below OR at Before the Second Sleep‘s Facebook page, located here. Drawing will be held in two weeks. 

Added note: Owing to some illness in the Zlitni shack, things got a bit stalled around here so the contest timeline has been extended! Huzzah!! I’ll be back with a definite date of drawing, but for now, please comment and share!

Update: Drawing November 19

Harold is coronated as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)
Harold is coronated as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

 Sons of the Wolf (Book I in the Sons of the Wolf series)

Paula Lofting

History informs us of Wulfhere, a recorded landholder of Horstede, but not much more than of his existence. Inspired by mention of him in David Howarth’s 1066: The Year of the Conquest, author Paula Lofting brings this figure and his imagined family to marvelous life as she depicts a tumultuous and eventful year in the time of this Saxon thegn.

sons
New edition cover of the B.R.A.G Medallion-winning Sons of the Wolf (click image)

That he was indeed a thegn—an aristocrat granted land by the king in exchange for military service—is guesswork on Lofting’s part, a fabulous example of how she deduces detail from historical reality and research. To be more precise, given the amount of land Domesday records Wulfhere as holding, it is quite within reason to conclude he must certainly have been a thegn. Drawing on this framework, the author creates a cast of characters and builds their world within the Anglo-Saxon era, during the years leading up to the Norman Conquest, in which the real people would have lived.

Sons of the Wolf opens as our protagonist and his right-hand man, Esegar, return from campaigning in the north, both men looking forward to routine days of family life and maintenance labor on their lands. Things soon heat up, however, when a long-running feud with Helghi of Gorde, an abusive, sordid schemer and holder of a nearby homestead, intensifies, and the guilt of abandonment draws Wulfhere back to the bed of his former mistress.

The warrior’s wife Ealdgytha, too, has much to contend with: their fourteen-year-old daughter Freyda has taken up with Helghi’s son and defies her parents, particularly her mother, at every turn. The woman whose presence in her marriage generated such anger in her had once been a close friend, and Ealdgytha was wracked with grief and guilt when Wulfhere was away on campaign.

While old wounds are opened for both husband and wife, events seem to conspire to complicate their lives, the center of them being the feuding between Wulfhere and Helghi, which the powerful Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson—to whom Wulfhere owes allegiance—had sternly advised must end. Helghi conspires to sieze Freyda’s holdings from her once she is married to his son, and Wulfhere suspects such a scheme. However, Earl Harold, in the interest of peace, effectively forces a betrothel, and there seems no way for Wulfhere to stop the destruction of his daughter once she marries into Edgar Helghison’s family.

As the author lays out this first part of the story, the characters both grow and grow on the reader. They are multi-dimensional and human, and Lofting’s skill in presenting the events of their lives brings a richness to the narrative that produces a smooth rhythm and such insight into even the smallest of details, it leaves one wondering if perhaps she isn’t a Saxon time traveler herself, simply describing details she would naturally know.

Being a reader absolutely smitten with the regular people who populate history, I loved the book the first time I read it. Lofting provides the sort of detail I hungrily consume, without ever risking ordinary overload. She gives humanity to characters and we observe them, strangely understanding that while they are very different to us, we reach through history in search of how they also are similar. This dual actuality reveals a cyclic lifestyle unfamiliar to many today, but also, that even though they lived nearly a thousand years ago, just like us, people felt the cold, wondered if they had enough food, sometimes felt lazy or uninspired, and gathered in groups.

With summer lingering a little longer than usual, the autumn winds waited patiently before scattering dying leaves over the succulent forest bed. There, in Horstede, with the days growing shorter as the evening cast its shadows over the village, life carried on much as usual despite the excitement of recent events. It was threshing time for those who worked the land; the time when grains were separated from the ears of the newly harvested sheaths and stored in barns. For Sigfrith, the domestic chores in her mistress’s household spared her from having to pick up a grain flail.

The author also allows us to see events through different perspectives, such as Tovi, who is horrifically bullied by his stronger and more aggressive brothers. Twins, the two sons of Loki, as their father calls them, provide historical significance as their diametrical opposition to Tovi’s timid nature embodies a sort of case study into personalities and what influences might lead people to greatness or obscurity. While labeled sibling rivalry on the surface, it opens the door to exploration of medieval childhood, without the author ever directing it to—their own words and actions stimulate it and, like so much else in the book, support a deeper study within a fantastic tale.

Sons of the Wolf cover for first edition
Sons of the Wolf cover for first edition

We also are privy to some more routine but exciting events in Wulfhere’s days, such as the bi-annual meeting of the Witan, the kings counsel, where rivalries and plotting hold hands, in turn triggering feuds not so different to that of Wulfhere and Helghi, but potentially more destructive. Not quite as comforting as the similarities discussed earlier, they affect society on a grander scale as allies become enemies and traditional foes utilize each other for their own gain, never truly partnering and therefore cruelly unconcerned with the widespread and devastating consequences.

With various layers of understanding and several plot lines, Lofting has written into the story both global and local conflict, each reflecting the other. She brings this to bear also on a scene in which several of the women examine the goods within a chest bequeathed to Ealdgytha. From the trove the women uncover an extraordinarily long and elaborately decorated tapestry that simultaneously anticipates and is reminiscent of the Bayeux Tapestry, the events depicted on which even now, as the summer of 1055 draws to a close, are being written into the book of time.

Like the famous tapestry, this one depicted in a chapter entitled “The Wolf Banner” and presumably central to the next installment of the same name, this immense work of art has been hidden away for quite some time. It lays out the story of the Wulfheresons’ ancestors in images sewn onto the cloth, metaphorically representing them as wolves crossing the sea. As with the tapestry now displayed in France, it has tatters that would be repaired, and the women point out scenes added later, in the case of this particular work, “to make it seem more Christian.”

“Look , Aunt Gunnhild, there is a scene here with a bishop and a church … and people instead of wolves.”

 “Aye, it seems that those scenes were added later, to depict the baptism of the wolf people,” Gunnhild informed her, joining her at the end.

 Here, too, Lofting replicates the local version of a larger phenomenon, complete with the human inclination toward stories, opposing interpretations and details disguised or altered to camouflage true intent or significance. An indisputably gifted storyteller, she manages her narrative with an understanding of the time so deep, readers don’t bear any of the weight, yet can recognize the pathways she takes us upon as the tale moves forward. At times these passages are even quite short yet filled with significance, such as when Aunt Gunnhild answers Ealdgytha’s derision of, for her, an unwanted representation of idolatry, her reply containing an admission and also an entire history of a people within it.

Ealdgytha shook her head dismissively. “There is something frightening about it,” she whispered gloomily. “It is like a … like a portent of doom.”

 “Nonsense,” declared Gunnhild. Nothing frightened her, thought Winflaed. “They are Brimwulfas,” she said with certainty. “The Sea Wolves. That is what the people whose land we took called our ancestors.”

It truly is impressive how many layers Lofting has woven in to Wulfhere and the others’ stories, a tapestry in itself so detailed that repeat examinations secure new understandings each time.

Indeed, having read this novel twice now, and myself possessing a greater grasp and appreciation of the eleventh century, I “recognized” many of the players more instantly and the connections were more apparent. Some of these are connections between historical figures, others between real events and characters in the story and still others between characters, all of which Lofting sews together in her masterful manner on this magnificent portrait of a family, a village and a society. Flawed and imperfect, they touch us most because this is true of ourselves as well, and their various searches in life mirror our own.

Whether readers approach Sons of the Wolf diving into the depths of significance or simply for a smashing read, they will not be disappointed. In this year, the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, or any other, this is a tremendous account of life before and behind the scenes of 1066 and the people, much like us, affected by the customs, mores, laws and relationships of the era, and given their due recognition by an author with even better yet to come.

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Stay tuned for my review of The Wolf Banner and upcoming installments in the “950: 1066 Remembered” series.

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About the author …

Paula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.

duckie-pooWith the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her debut novel, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”

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Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the upcoming Wolf Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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Sons of the Wolf was was previously reviewed at Before the Second Sleep and a copy provided to facilitate review. 

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This blog was updated to reflect the giveaway in post title, extension of contest timeline, indieBRAG status as winner of the BRAG Medallion and exact date of drawing.

13 thoughts on “950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Sons of the Wolf (Updated, With Giveaway)

  1. Pingback: 950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Bastard of Normandy v. the Golden Warrior (Paula Lofting) – before the second sleep

  2. Pingback: 950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: The Wolf Banner (With Giveaway) – before the second sleep

  3. Pingback: 950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner – before the second sleep

  4. Pingback: 950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt, Sons of the Wolf (With Giveaway) – before the second sleep

    1. Lily, I am pleased to let you know you are our other winner for one of two Kindle copies of _Sons of the Wolf_! Congratulations!!!!

      Please contact me so we can get your book to you 😀

  5. I have to thank you again Lisl for this wonderful, beautifully crafted review, which in itself is a masterpiece. Your insight into the workings of my characters is totally amazing and the intricate details you identify, not even I have noticed. Thank you again.

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