Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
HarperCollins: January 27, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free From Library
“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” (p. 107).
Wolf Winter is a historical thriller set in 1717 Sweden and what a stylish read it is. Maija, her husband, and her two daughters, Frederika and Dorotea have moved to the Swedish Lapland from Finland, having traded properties with a family member. Soon after arriving, Frederika and Dorotea find a man dead near a marsh. The settlers want to believe that it was an animal attack but Maija is convinced that it was murder and sets out to prove her point, only to have the settlers tell her that there is something evil on the mountain.
Wolf Winter is a lyrical novel with a mystery at its heart. From the start, the author’s writing captures readers’ attention, immersing them into the harsh and claustrophobia winter that isolates Maija, her family, and the other settlers on the mountain. While the mystery is compelling, it is the writing that I found so engrossing with Wolf Winter. The imagery that the writer uses to describe the seasons is so wonderfully alive:
Late autumn this year had violence in her hair, angry crimson, orange, and yellow. The trees wrestled to free themselves of their cloaks, crumpled up their old leaves and threw them straight out into the strong wind rather than just let them fall to the ground. Dry leaves ran across the yard with the crackle of fire (p. 100).
Whenever the environment is described, whether it is the inevitable march of the seasons, or the coldness of a winter storm, there is such emotion imbued within the imagery. The weather in Wolf Winter became almost another person with its own anger and fear, heightening the suspense as it mirrors the sensations among the settlers. The symmetry of the weather and the emotion of the settlers was beautifully done, creating a highly atmospheric, almost otherworldly read. More of this writing, please!
In addition to the fantastic writing, the way that the mystery was related was also well done. The story is told through the eyes of Maija, her fourteen year old daughter, Frederika, and the village priest. The choice of three narrators was interesting in that it offers very different perspectives of the murder. Maija is intent on finding justice, but she wants there to be a simple, explainable resolution. Fredericka repudiates her mother’s logic because she knows that there is more at work; she sees and speaks to the dead man’s ghost. And the priest, well, he doesn’t event want to find justice, at first. These three perspectives demonstrate that there is something much more sinister and perhaps paranormal happening on the mountain. The sense that something strange is at work is palpable throughout Wolf Winter and that is very evident in Frederika’s narrative. Frederika obviously sees much of what others do not; there is a connection to the mountain that others will not understand and Maija struggles to protect her daughter from voicing her convictions. Unfortunately, in protecting her daughter Maija doesn’t protect herself and soon finds herself at the centre of suspicion with only the priest as her ally.
If you are a fan of stylish historical thrillers Wolf Winter will impress. The writing is lyrical and beautiful even as it describes the harsh realities of living in an isolated community. The suspense is heightened with the images employed by the author and readers are giving not only a satisfying mystery, but an exploration of the fears and superstitions that can drive a community to the brink. This is an author that I will be keeping my eye out for in the future.
The fact that Maija and her family are settlers in a harsh environment immediately put me in mind of Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness. While this is more of a family saga, I think it will appeal to those that liked the historical era and the theme of creating a home in a remote wilderness.
For another literary mystery set in a similar time period, Jean Zimmerman’s The Orphanmaster is a great follow up to Wolf Winter. While there is no paranormal element to this one, the themes of The Orphanmaster are very similar. And, if you enjoyed the character of Maija, Blandine will be another compelling heroine.
For a less obvious choice, I would recommend Deborah Coates’ Wide Open trilogy (the final book was amazing!). While these books feature a contemporary setting, I think the paranormal aspect as well as the rural element will appeal to fans of the atmospheric setting in Wolf Winter. Start with book one, Wide Open.