Fenrir is the sequel to M. D. Lachlan’s brilliant fantasy debut, Wolfsangel, and the second installment in his unnamed Norse werewolf series. Now, many readers will have but one question regarding this book: “Is it as good as Wolfsangel?” The answer, in my opinion, is an emphatic “yes.” While the two novels are quite different in a number of ways, Fenrir lives up to the high expectations set by its predecessor, and, in many cases, exceeds them.
A struggle throughout the ages
Fenrir is set approximately 100 years after the events of Wolfsangel, in an early medieval Paris set alight by the torches of Viking invaders. The hordes lay siege to the city, yet strangely their leaders demand not slaves or riches, but the Count’s sister, Aelis. They are not alone in seeking the young woman—the raven priests of Odin also hunt her, as does a mysterious wolfman lurking in the shadows. Unbeknowst to Aelis, her role in these events is due to no mere machination of politics but serves a greater, more sinister purpose. The crippled and blind living saint, Jehan, is given the task of speaking to the girl and perhaps convincing her to accept her fate. However, Aelis and Jehan are about to become pawns in a mad god’s schemes. In their future lies death, madness, dark magic, and the monstrous Fenris wolf, fated to kill Odin at Ragnarok.
A new perspective on the familiar
Once again, Lachlan delivers a dark and thrilling tale incorporating Norse gods and monsters, historical detail, and sinister magic into a tragically human struggle against fate. It is these human elements that stand out in this book when compared to the last. The characters are more developed and their relationships are more complex. Some old characters reappear (e.g. Loki), and we are introduced to many new ones, as well as some that are simultaneously new and familiar—the reincarnations of those in Wolfsangel. This in and of itself is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel, as we learn more about each of the major players from an entirely different perspective. We see who they have become and how they react in vastly different circumstances. For instance, Adisla is no longer a farmer’s daughter but the highborn lady Aelis, and as a result, she acts quite differently in some regards while still retaining certain characteristics from her previous incarnation. In other cases, the differences are even more pronounced, and Lachlan keeps the reader guessing who is actually who in relation to the previous novel. Often he manages to surprise in this respect.
While the characters in Wolfsangel were already believable and human, Lachlan takes his characterization to a whole new level in Fenrir. Each character develops as an individual, has their own flaws, and almost every one displays some degree of moral ambiguity. The protagonists are never completely irreproachable, while the antagonists never come across as wholly evil or without motivation for their actions. In many cases you may well find yourself sympathizing with a character you initially wrote off as irredeemable.
Another noteworthy improvement regards the female protagonist Aelis/Adisla, who takes on a much greater role than she did in Wolfsangel. She evolves from being possibly the least developed of the protagonists to one of the most well characterized. In addition, she displays greater agency and is much more proactive character instead of being a hapless victim dragged into a struggle not of her own making. Personally, I found this made her much easier to relate to and a much more well-rounded character than she was previously. There is also a much greater focus on the feelings and internal struggles of the characters in this book, as they come to understand much of what is happening to them, and endeavor to fight against their fates. Can they really rebel against the inevitable and defy a god? There’s only one way to find out…
Evocative prose and an immersive atmosphere
Lachlan’s writing, already proficient in Wolfsangel, is further perfected in Fenrir, fully immersing the reader in this strange world of gods and monsters. There were moments when I could almost hear the dripping of moisture in a dark cave or see the light streaming down through the canopy of a forest. Lachlan excels at creating atmosphere and pays great attention to historical detail, effortlessly evoking a bygone age. Although lyrical and flowing, the writing never distracts from the story and the historical aspects are incorporated seamlessly into the plot. For instance, we are not told about the differences and conflicts between Christian and Norse religion, but come to understand them through Jehan’s interactions with his companions. In fact, some of the more amusing moments in what is otherwise quite a dark novel involve the Vikings pragmatism in response to Jehan’s attempts to convert them (they’ll believe in his god if his god brings them a shelter or makes them fiercer warriors) or misinterpretation of each others customs.
A dark and brutal tale
Fenrir is even darker and more intense than its predecessor, and includes a few somewhat disturbing and rather graphic scenes that I would not recommend to anyone with a weak stomach. Nevertheless, these scenes are used in context with the rest of the story and often play important roles in the progression of the narrative. Though many of the events depicted throughout the novel are undeniably violent and often horrific, they are never depicted in an overly gratuitous manner or included purely for shock value with no relation to the plot. The novel is set in a brutal age and Lachlan does not try to sugarcoat this, provide an idealized version of history, or glorify bloodshed. Often, I felt this added to the authenticity of the story and made the fantastical elements more believable. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the more tender human moments with the gory or violent scenes increased the impact of the story as a whole.
A more linear, character driven plot
Fenrir is a longer book (by around 200 pages) than Wolfsangel, and the plot unfolds in a primarily linear fashion, without as many jumps between time-frames . Some readers have mentioned the pacing of Fenrir is also marginally slower; however, I see this an inevitable by-product of the greater focus on character development. Personally, I felt getting to know the characters better—and, as a result, caring more about what happens to them—more than compensated for a slower pace. All things considered, the plot is still thrilling, the world still fascinating, and the pace quite fast compared to many other novels.
When reading Fenrir, one must keep in mind that this is but the second book in a longer series (the exact number of installments is not yet finalized), and as such may not offer the reader the closure they may desire. Those hoping for a decisive conclusion to the overall storyline are setting themselves up for disappointment. Personally, I am thrilled that there are to be more books after Fenrir and was quite satisfied with the ending. It provides a conclusion to this chapter in an ongoing struggle and hints at how circumstances may change in the books that follow.
Why should you read this book?
If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly suggest you read Wolfsangel before picking up Fenrir. In fact, if you haven’t read Wolfsangel, why are you wasting time reading this review? Stop immediately, go get your hands on a copy, and read that instead. If you read and loved the first book like I did, I would definitely recommend you read this one as well, as, in my opinion, it is even better. While Fenrir is an engrossing and well-written story in its own right, it is an excellent second book in what is shaping up to be a brilliant multi-volume series. Honestly, the worst thing about this novel is the fact I now have to wait for the next one.