Why: The title. The cover. The dark, mysterious teaser. The genre – it’s historical fiction – one of my favorites. And honestly, when I picked this up at a local bookstore in Washington, DC, I was dreading a long, hot and humid Carolina summer so a cold winter’s tale sounded perfect.
“Your judgment worries me,” he said, with early thunder in his voice, a low rumbling the priest felt rather than heard.
The Story: A Finnish family moves to Swedish Lappland in the early 1700s, apparently running from something. What the family doesn’t know is what they are heading into. Upon arrival, the family is immediately swept into a crisis when one of their fellow settlers is killed, apparently at the hand of a neighbor. Disturbing rumors swirl concerning the supposed sadistic history of Blackåsen Mountain, the Finns’ new home, and the turmoil threatens to consume everyone in the mountain’s shadow. Without giving too much away, the family must fight to stick together while the living, and perhaps the dead, try to tear them apart.
“…she said two things were certain: when the spirits call, whoever they call needs to prove themselves worthy. The other thing that is certain is that there will be guidance.”
Opinion: From Page 1, I was hooked. I am not normally one for “thrillers” or books with gothic elements or witchcraft, but the setting and immediate action sucked me in. The character development is fairly slow but deliberate, and there no lulls or I do believe there are some elements of the plot that I would enjoy more upon a second, more scholarly reading of this novel. As answers unfolded I found myself reading so voraciously that I didn’t take the time to re-read and fully comprehend the fine details and tenuous links.
On a quick tangent, one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was the writing style. Cecilia Ekbäck uses all five senses to create deep, rich and enticing scenes. It amazes when authors are able to recreate smells and sensations that readers can truly feel, especially when in this case, most readers will never experience cold as severe as these characters survive.
“Wolf winter,” she said, her voice small. “I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is.”
He was silent for a long time. “It’s the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal,” he said. “Mortal and alone.”
Recommendation: This is a masterpiece. It is a dark, complex, twisting work that requires attention to detail and would be best for someone looking for a bit of a challenging read. Keeping track of the timeline and what was actually happening proved difficult for me at times, as I allowed myself to be swept up in the story as opposed to taking my time and comprehending. This is another one of those books that makes me want to dig in and write an academic essay. Easily one of the best novels I’ve encountered in a long time.
“The circular wind is life,” the elder said. “What was yesterday comes again tomorrow. It runs from place to place and returns. But in the midst of disorder is reason. And if you can hold to reason, you shall be safe.”
Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post!) Starred questions below come from the book’s “Topics for Discussion.”
- * To what extent does landscape affect the behavior of the characters in Wolf Winter?
- How would you describe the relations between Maija and the priest?
- * What role do animals – real and imagined – play in this story?
- Based on the descriptions in the book and your extrapolation, describe the “community” on Blackåsen Mountain before and after the story in Wolf Winter takes place. How do Maija and family fit in after?
- Four characters in Wolf Winter are known to have “gifts.” How are these characters and their gifts similar and different?