I am very pleased to host today’s segment of indieBRAG’s blog tour celebrating Paula Lofting’s debut novel, Sons of the Wolf. Set in the England of King Edward the Confessor, Sons of the Wolf introduces us to the understanding that those who populate this pre-1066 era conduct lives and a society every bit as complicated and layered as our own. Moreover, they view themselves as individuals, albeit if not on the same level as do we. Their lives and loves, hurts and worries, superstitions and values, inform the directions in which they pour their energies. The modern notion that life was universally short, cheap and dirty is challenged by Lofting’s research and narrative, which details people who aim for the future and fight to retain their dreams. Picking at threads, they sometimes patched together as best they could, while other occasions show them to be the ones manipulating the strands.
Sons of the Wolf
by Paula Lofting
Whispers in the Wind: Sons of the Wolf and Remnants of Our Past
As Wolfhere and his right-hand man, Esegar, make their way home from a victorious but devastating Scottish campaign, the reader is immediately given to understand the historical importance of their surroundings. “They’d been travelling many days along the ancient trackways which for centuries had witnessed the various comings and goings of the many different peoples of these lands.” Indeed, heritage is echoed in names–Inewulf, whose wife gives the returning warriors drink–and language–““Aye, þu airt welcumen, Lord[,” she replies]–as well as the practices governing their society. Wulfhere, as thegn, is a landowner with allegiance to the king; in this case he also serves the local earl, Harold, who soon intervenes in a thinly-veiled land dispute, which plays itself out as a generational feud. In order to promote peace, Harold orders Wulfhere to contract his daughter’s hand to that of his enemy’s son, Edgar Helghison. Young Freyda is only too happy to oblige, in love as she is with Helghi’s injured and ill-treated son.
In the course of the novel readers learn of other familial secrets, seamlessly revealed by Lofting in her characters’ dialogue–knots that smoothly reveal themselves–and sudden, dramatic actions and events. Like the tapestry depicting the lives and meanings of their ancestors’ world, Lofting skillfully portrays that of the Horstedes in scenes otherwise reminiscent of a typical day or evening, yet with so much meaning infused within. As Ealdgytha, Wulfhere’s beautiful but unhappy wife awaits his return,
[p]art of her was missing. Somewhere in her mind she had closed a door, locking inside the thoughts she did not want to think and the feelings she could not bear to feel.[. . . ] Then, at hearth time, she sat by the fire, chatting quite animatedly away to Gunnhild about her new pregnancy.
This scene sewn into a tapestry would reveal little to an examiner, for who can see into hearts embroidered onto material? Like the multitudes of others we encounter in passing each day, these people we might see, but what lives in their hearts and minds lay unknown to us even, sadly, when we blow off the dust and bring our open hearts to the examination. Or perhaps, like Ealdgytha, we see something we recognize but wish to dismiss and carelessly toss the remnants of our ancestors into coffers and chests.
Her daughter, Winflaed, however, is thrilled to learn about those who came before her, her “awesome ancestors,” led by Aelle, who brought them across the sea to the land they now inhabit. Their own tribal leader had been Wulfgar, whose name lent its prefix to the many still in use. She continues to stare at the tapestry:
Silently, she attempted to interpret the story that the embroidered images were telling her. Hills and trees on one side and on the other a coastal shoreline with a half-dozen or so richly coloured sea vessels, all possessing sails that were crested with a brown wolf’s head. In one corner of the tapestry was the summit of a hill that sloped down into woodland. Along the rising gradient, wolves appeared to be running upwards with the largest of the creatures at the hill’s pinnacle, its dark grey-blue shape howling at a perfectly round moon against a darkened sky. This was clearly the leader, Winflaed decided, for it was the largest and most clearly represented. Behind it, the others looked small and insignificant against its majesty. Interestingly, there were no images of humans. It was as if the wolves themselves had sailed and alighted ashore from the boats and were running freely across a depicted land.
It has been said that images speak to the examiner, though what the message is depends on who receives it. What is so different between what Wilflaed and her mother hear? Who depicted the newly arrived as wolves would also indicate why they were depicted as such: fearsome, frightening invaders, or noble, misunderstood creatures? What did mother and daughter hear in the echoes of the wolf leader’s cries to the night sky? As the wind carried the sound across the landscape and through time, what changes came over it and how much was left to understand? Was the recognizable stripped away, leaving only hard images that seemingly cover up all else?
Their own experiences surely color interpretations as well. The roles of mother and daughter affect how they perceive the world, but also their ages, the former having become embittered by what she has endured in life, and the latter still within the parameters of innocence. She continues to see what we overlook. While current stereotypes can be misleading, it is only too true that life in 1054 England was harsh by modern Western standards. As for Wulfhere, we find him engaged in bloody battle once more, this time having also to deal with the aftermath of battlefield abandonment and the sickening devastation wrought on the villagers following the fight.
Wulfhere is at war on the home front, as well, for his bitter disapproval of Freyda’s betrothed does nothing to waver her enthusiasm, and he seeks to engage her to another. His young children battle one another, the demanding Ealdgytha insists he make choices and his enemy Helghi’s attempted rape of his maidservant leads to a furious battle that ends in tragedy–in more ways than one. Wulfhere is determined, protective and proud, perhaps a perilous combination in a man as passionate, and sometimes selfish, as he. However, he is at least sometimes capable of recognizing the níðdraca, the monster who “thrive[s] on their lust for revenge, their need for a reckoning, and the endless waiting[,]” as well as the part he plays in weaving it to life.
Lofting has allowed us, too, to be passionate observers rather than passive ones, because she has brought to life an era shrouded in the mystery of the unknown. With such a distance as nearly a thousand years between “us” and “them,” we already sometimes echo the wretched Alfgar’s words of his own era, “What does it matter what she felt? [. . . ] as long as you are on the winning side [. . . i]n the end it is all the same.” And given the diversity of persona across the timeline, it can hardly be disputed there were some who treated even their own times thus. In diplomatic fashion, Lofting has given even such as Alfgar voice to speak to us, even at the risk he may be matted together with slave taking, “men so drunk they pissed where they stood” and “the torn body of a dead baby lying in the mud.”
Indeed, Sons of the Wolf is not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Brutal reality lives here, and to honor the lives of those we seek, we must face the tapestry and honestly examine even the uglier segments. Actual lives were lived on this dance across the arras, clues of which Lofting sifts through and unknots, thread by thread to gain understanding of personalities and motives when so little documentary evidence reveals its secrets. So do not be put off by the telling, for it needs to be so. As this reviewer frequently maintains, they are remnants of our past, these ancestors of ours, though they on their tapestries may “in time [be] just whispers on the wind,” they beckon to us and we are obliged to follow.
Publish Date: July 23, 2012
Publisher: SilverWood Books
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
UPDATE: Several e-copies and a paperback up for grabs! To stand a chance of winning, e-mail author Paula Lofting at firstname.lastname@example.org . Go for it!!!!
Visit indieBRAG’s blog tour page to keep up with other dates and sites!
About the author: My name is Paula Lofting and I write historical fiction. My first novel is called Sons of the Wolf, set in 11thc England. I like to keep things as accurate as I can when I am writing historically and belong to a re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum that covers the period in which I write. This enables me to have some knowledge of the time I write in of the everyday things and not just the politics and events of the time. Living history is a big part of what Regia do and everything has to be well researched for authenticity.
My earliest influences in reading were Rosemary Sutcliffe, Edith Pargetter, Leon Garfield, Mary Stewart and Sharon Kay Penman. Rosemary Sutcliffe really got me into Dark Age history. I love her style and am reading Manda Scott currently whose style is heavily influenced by Sutcliffe’s.
Aside from enjoying historical fiction set in pre-conquest years, I also enjoy later medieval, ancient and anything in later periods that would interest me. I also enjoy crime, horror and thrillers. Erotica is not really for me but I appreciate the skill you must need to write in that genre.
I am a psychiatric nurse by day and writer in my spare time. I have three children and live in the beautiful county of Sussex, England, where my book is set. I am currently working on the sequel which I hope to have released in the late summer or early Autumn!
A copy of Sons of the Wolf was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.
Banner courtesy indieBRAG Medallion, LLC. Images courtesy Paula Lofting.