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Wolf Blood - NM Browne (Young adult novel)

Posted: Fri July 1st, 2011, 8:22 pm
by Manda Scott
I hope this is the right place to post this - if you'd rather I posted it in the YA section, let me know (Or shift it for me?)

Once in a while, a book comes along that blows me out of the water. "Wolf Blood", a young adult novel by NM Browne is one of those, tho' it shouldn't be surprising because I devoured each of Browne's 'Warrior' series in a couple of sittings and loved them: this is children's writing at its best: literate, engaging, straightforward, yet with characters that come alive in the early pages and grow throughout.

WOLF BLOOD is a werewolf novel - if it's for teens at the moment, it seems it has to have either a vampire or a werewolf, but this one is different. It's set in first century Britain, for starters, and, along with a strong sense of historical time and place, it has all the sense of old magic that wove so strongly through the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Stewart. This is a real magic, an earthy, stone-solid, god-drenched magic that adheres to the rules we all know of such things, and yet is new enough to be different.

The story follows the fortunes of Trista: warrior girl and seer of the Brigantes, who has been made a slave of the Parisi. We join her the night her friend, Carys, dies of fever, and she is free to escape her serfdom. Freedom doesn't last long, before she bumps into - almost literally - a pair of legionaries from the XIth legion (long before it disappeared and presumably some time before the Boudica's warriors destroyed it - I suspect that might come in a subsequent book). She might be in trouble but that she recognises something different in one of the men, a Briton (in this book, they are Kelts) called Morcant - he's a shape shifter, but not one of the current TV form, there is 'no cracking of bones nor straining of tendons, just this noiseless swapping of forms' that becomes more frequent as he is needed more.

As is the convention, he doesn't know it and doesn't like it, but soon after their escape, he steps off the conventional track and starts taking a life of his own. Trista's visions combined with Morcant's wolf-self make a formidable pair, however much she doesn't admit it, and their trials as they endeavour each to be true to her or him self make up the bulk of the book. History weaves through with Caradoc (Caractacus in this book) and Cartimandua of the Brigantes joined in their fateful struggle, but we are concerned with the smaller people, the chieftains and tribal druids, and the grey, shifting Wild Weird that Trista can see when she wears a particular arm ring.

The book isn't long - 282 pages (I read it on a 3 hours train journey - half on the way up, half on the way down) and it's perfect for the kind of young adults who have loved Sutcliff or even Alan Garner's "Weirdstone of Brisingamen" - the magic is not as fantastical, but it holds to the same truths. It's perfect, too, for adults who read these books in their childhood and have always yearned for more: these are the books you wish had been around as a child.

Posted: Fri July 1st, 2011, 10:54 pm
by annis
Sounds great, Manda - I must see if I can track down a copy. I'm a longtime fan of Rosemary Sutcliff and Alan Garner and a believer in the magic of language. I still remember being given a copy of the Moon of Gormrath as a kid and getting the old zing up the spine when I read it. Even now, I love the poetry of Garner's writing:
On, on, on, on, faster, faster the track drew him, flowed through him, filled his lungs and his heart and his mind with fire, sparked from his eyes, streamed from his hair, and the bells and the music and the voices were all of him, and the Old Magic sang to him from the depths of the earth and the caverns of the night blue sky.

I just recently read Janni Howker's YA novel Martin Farrell, which did the same thing for me - she has taken a piece of history and created a folktale of it, and her use of language is brilliant (review here)

I think the combination of myth and history is an irresistible one, and particularly appealing to kids. And if you can use a currently fashionable theme to lure young readers into reading something which will stretch the imagination, so much the better :)