950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner

Welcome and thank you for joining us once more as we remember 1066 through the end of this 950th anniversary year. Today we have a peek at Paula Lofting’s The Wolf Banner, marvelous sequel to Sons of the Wolf. In both novels we journey through pre-Conquest England with Wulfhere of Horstede toward that fateful year. We will meet up with historical figures, the names of whom many may remember, such as King Harold Godwinson and the woman known to history as Lady Godiva. Fictional characters, too, appear, some of whom are based on documented figures, such as Wulfhere himself, whom the author discovered in The Domesday Book, waiting for his story to be told.

Where will his tale take us as we move closer to October 1066? We do not know all of these details as of yet, but as we witness the spinners spin, we become more than mere observers in the hands of Paula Lofting. We are part of the story and history itself.

Author Paula Lofting is so graciously gifting a Kindle copy of The Wolf Banner to one lucky winner. If it happens our winner has not read its predecessor, they will also receive a copy of Sons of the Wolf

How might you be that winner? Simply comment below and you will be entered in our drawing! (See below for another commenting option.)

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The Wolf Banner

(Sons of the Wolf Book II)

by Paula Lofting

We first became acquainted with Wulfhere of Horstede in Paula Lofting’s debut novel, the indie B.R.A.G. award-winning Sons of the Wolf, following the thegn as he returns from battle and gaining insight into the lives of his Anglo-Saxon family as their various trials and tribulations play themselves out in pre-1066 England. Wulfhere’s family has been embroiled in a feud with Helghi, a neighboring landholder, while his daughter becomes involved with Helghi’s son. Too young and unaware of other realities to make an informed decision, fourteen-year-old Freyda insists upon the match and Earl Harold Godwinson, to whom Wulfhere owes allegiance, agrees, believing it will end the feud.

wolfieFamilial divisions contribute to tension within the narrative and as events feed off each other, breakdown and tragedy occur. The story rounds out, but Wulfhere understands that nothing is over while Helghi still lives, leaving the door open for a sequel and readers eager to know what happens next.

The Wolf Banner picks up with Wulfhere’s aggrieved wife, Ealdgytha, as she simultaneously mourns the child recently lost and tries to keep the household running. Dealing with Freyda’s arrogant defiance wears her down and she gives in to stress and her sister-in-law, beating the girl bloody on the eve of her wedding. Thus the author brings us to a new set of tensions for the family as Wulfhere condemns the thrashing and divisions once more rent the tenuous fabric of unity that had been holding the family together.

As with Sons of the Wolf, politics comes into play, though this time we see new characters and more of them, including the Mercian Earl Aelfgar, who graduates from burning down Hereford to treason as he allies himself with the Welsh Gruffydd ap Llewelyn against King Edward the Confessor. Wulfhere’s involvement in the ensuing battle continues Lofting’s portrayal of life as tapestry, threads from each person’s days weaving with all others to complete an image, and spinners spoken of as if they were fate twilling the tale, determining the actions of all players. Indeed, as events play out, readers’ own tension can be felt in our silent urging of characters to “do the right thing,” and our anticipation as we hurry along to find out the consequences—for better or worse—of their choices.

One scene shows a portion of the humiliating aftermath of a devastating defeat, the author injecting into it the precise ingredients needed not just to like as well as dislike the vanquished, but also to experience his appearance as an onlooker, or even he himself, might have.

“I have risked my life for the king – and the earl and I will not be gunnored!”

 “You little Horningsunu! You dare to threaten a huscarle of the king’s own guard?” Furious at [the] attempted trespass, the guard on [his] left thrust his spear-shaft at [his] chest, pushing him back … he found his arms to have been grabbed from behind.

 One of the guards in front of him sniffed and said, “You’re drunk.”

 “Not quite, but I might be later, with any luck.” [He] was swaying.

 Having relaxed, [he] allowed the men to remove his belt with the sword attached to it … “That’s it!” he cried out, “take the last thing a man has apart from his diggidy; his sword. Now I am left with nothing!” He made for the doors, trying to push past the guards, and when they grabbed him again, he began lashing out, striking out at his captors blindly and uselessly. They grabbed his arms again, forcing them behind him.

 “Just let me see the king,” [he] demanded. “I have to see him. I am owed a bed of honour, don’t you understand?”

 The men began laughing at him. “A bed of honour, my lord?” one of them guffawed.

 “Come on, man, where’s your diggidy?”

We also see more of the brother Tovi and his siblings, twins Wulfric and Wulfwin, and others, all of whom have a larger voice here, significantly adding to the intrigue and gripping nature of the book. The fleshing out of characters, their circumstances and motives bring in angles not seen before, making this installment delightfully more complex, though not weighty. There are some surprises, those that make us gasp and others bringing to fruition what we might have feared.

Lofting tells the story with such easy expertise it is impossible not to be drawn into events, watching and responding to characters we have grown to care for. Wulfhere, for example, is a good man at heart, but flawed, which is what makes him more likeable: he is as stuck in and blinded to his own circumstances as we are to ours. When one of his decisions results in a cruel exacerbation of Ealdgytha’s grief, we chastise him as we simultaneously concede, “What else could he do?” Lofting is a master of perspectives, bestowing individuals with strong reasoning but allowing space for other viewpoints as well. As a result it is difficult to take sides, even when we can relate to what each person asserts.

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Sons of the Wolf is an indie B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree (click image)

The author brings this to bear on religious sensibilities as well, with the title playing a key role in this aspect of the family’s story, which goes back to their “wolven forbears.” In Sons of the Wolf we witness another daughter as she discovers and examines an ancestral tapestry her mother had deemed sacrilegious. Instinctively understanding that to erase the past is to rob one’s self, she keeps it for display, also rescuing and repairing a banner her father had at one time carried into battle.

Wulfhere defends Winflaed’s admiration for her ancestors, himself retaining appreciation for the need of dual understanding. When The Wolf Banner brings us to a pruning scene—itself a theological metaphor—he listens as Father Paul speaks Christian philosophy, while musing about the upcoming Candelmœsse and its attendant rituals:

Father Paul would bless the candles and everyone would proceed around the whole village and out into the fields as the priest sprinkled holy water, and granted blessings to the earth spirits and the plough. Wulfhere knew that the bishops and abbots frowned on these ancient customs, forbidding anything to do with the old pagan ways of their forefathers. But Father Paul had told him that you could not undo hundreds of years of tradition without alienating your flock.

Lofting tells these people’s stories in a similar manner, utilizing their ancient names, sprinkling the tale with references to the wolf element within their ancestry, pointing out how very different they were to us while most often concerned with many of the same issues. The novel is written, however, to our modern sensibilities and we are entertained while also enraptured in much the same way Winflaed is, knowing that what images we see of them will determine what those yet to come will see of us.

Like lives in any era, there is tragedy and also comedy. Lofting weaves into episodes the comical and farcical, as well as the emulation of tradition that results too in the good time to be had when, as played out then, it is mostly imitation that devolves into raucous funning. These people had a sense of humor. While her entire telling brings those of this era to life, this adds to their dimensions, provides balance, makes them more relatable, especially to those of us who have never had warfare directly impact our lives, as do they. Lofting rescues them from the quick and dirty image of a people set upon by little more than war and sheer drudgery, and gives them back much of who they are, and the meaning within their lives.

Even for those without great understanding or knowledge of the watershed year of 1066 or those not yet besotted by Sons of the Wolf—after this they will want to be—The Wolf Banner isn’t simply a great read or difficult to put down. Readers will be drawn into the dialogue, the story’s fluidity and the multitude of layers. There is a certain satisfaction as pieces begin to fit together, paired with anticipation for how all this will play out. Different from some 1066 stories because we don’t, as with Harold, for example, already know what will happen, it draws us in and beckons us on, and we willingly follow. We can’t help ourselves.

As delicious and gripping a read as Sons of the Wolf—nay, even more—The Wolf Banner brings us love, lies, war, merriment, jealousy, victory, feuding, loyalty, payback both sinister and hilarious, and a glimpse into the reality of Anglo-Saxon life that will mesmerize the newly initiated as well as old hands. A story so thoughtfully woven we will hardly be able to wait and see what else the spinners have in store for Wulfhere, his family and his community. Wolf’s Bane, third in the series, is slated for 2017 release and the longing to once more meet up with this thegn has already set in.

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Remember to comment below OR at our Facebook thread (here) to get in on the drawing for a FREE COPY of The Wolf Banner. Let us know if you haven’t yet read Sons of the Wolf and the ever-generous Paula Lofting will send along a copy of that, too! Drawing scheduled for December 3, so keep your eyes peeled to see if you are our winner!

Update: Drawing extended to December 20

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About the author …

duckie-pooPaula 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.

With 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’s Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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A copy of The Wolf Banner was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review.

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7 thoughts on “950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner

  1. It’s taken me a while to have a moment to sit down and read this review, but only because I wanted to read it carefully and in full, especially as I live in 1066 country! A great review and the book sounds wonderful … so wonderful in fact that I have just purchased Sons of the Wolf (Book 1 in the series).
    Thank you, Lisl, for another great review, and Paula for such imaginative writing – or were you there?!!

  2. I have just finished reading The Wolf Banner. It’s a great book, as is the first book. Paula is a great writer and puts a lot into her work. This is a very comprehensive review and I’m sure it will help capture readers’ interest. I’d like to have a signed copy of her book.

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