Fenrir by M D Lachlan
This is a very interesting alternate history in which the world has seen the physical and cultural dominance of the Norsemen spreading throughout Europe and into Russia during the interregnum between the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of a more stable set of nations spreading from the West to the East of the continent. In this time of chaos, there’s a balance to be struck between all the different groups and tribes, with merchants and mercenaries able to respond to the general laws of supply and demand. To some extent, this produces early signs of forces that will eventually move these smaller groups to merge into larger entities. But, for now, there are fragile alliances based on self-interest. A slightly different factor is the role of the various faiths. From the North come the old Gods like Odin. From the South comes early Christianity which is looking to convert the heathen tribes into the new religion. Complicating this is the reality of magic which destabilises the process of conversion. Given that faith relies on belief where there’s no evidence, it’s difficult to hold converts to Christianity when there are practical demonstrations that magic based on the old Gods produces results. To highlight the tension, one of the early figures we meet in Fenrir by M D Lachlan (pseudonym of Mark Barrowcliffe) (PYR, 2011) is Jehan the Confessor, a monk who’s been blinded by his vision of the Virgin Mary but granted the power of prophesy. If the old religion has magic, this can be matched by a living Saint — assuming it was the Virgin Mary he saw, of course.
As a sequel to Wolfsangel, we’re therefore into two interacting but different levels of storytelling. At a metaphorical level, this is a story about faith. In part, this is played out in the evolution of Jehan. His body has been physically broken by his exposure to divinity but, with an admirable stoicism, he gives up his pain and suffering to God and represents an inspiration to all around him. How ironic it therefore becomes when he finds that, perhaps, the effects of his encounter with the supernatural being was rather more transformative than he could have realised. Indeed, it’s only when he comes under direct pressure of circumstances, that he’s forced to confront the reality that he can become something more despite his apparent physical disability. What then is he to make of his faith in a Christian God?
Competing for our attention is the second mythological thread in which Lachlan is playing with the potential arrival of Ragnarök. This requires Fenrisulfr, the wolf, to kill Odin and bring on either The Twilight or The Doom of the Gods depending on which version of the myths you want to take. As you can imagine, this explores major themes of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. This book also offers the further possibilities that the wolf might be killed or, through killing Odin, enables the God to be reborn. In Wolfsangel, we were presented with an unusual love triangle that was taken up by the old Gods for their sport. As a demonstration of their power, the lovers are now reincarnated and, depending on your point of view, either destined or doomed to meet again in each new life. To make the game more “interesting” to the Gods, none of the newly reborn remember their past lives. Think of this as a scientific experiment to determine whether people are drawn to each other based on their “souls” or some other intangible link that transcends time. This means we must meet Aelis. Her brother is attempting to defend Paris from the invading Norsemen except this is not a traditional assault with rape and pillage on their minds. They have actually come for Aelis and faithfully swear they will leave if she’s handed over to them. Also arriving in the vicinity is Leshii, a merchant sent by Prince Helgi to guide a man he calls Chakhlyk to Paris. After a number of intense skirmishes, we have Aelis and Leshii set upon the road back to the court of Prince Helgi, while a newly revitalised Jehan leads a small group of Norsemen east towards a distant monastery. Also actively participating are two characters representing a physical incarnation of Odin’s ravens. They are Hugin and Munin who, in the myths, represent “thought” and “memory”. Their role is as a balancing faction. If Aelis may kill the wolf and so “save” Odin, one faction might want her to succeed, the other to fail. Obviously, it may always come to the same thing because if the wolf dies, Odin survives. If Odin is reincarnated following his death in the jaws of the wolf, he continues in his reign, i.e. Odin and Loki may have set up this human game to watch as our humans die and are reincarnated so they can learn more about this process for passing through time.
This is not a book for everyone. A lot of blood is spilt and there’s a rather grim feel to the whole enterprise. Unless you can comfortably absorb descriptions of death on a semi-industrial scale, you should give this a miss. I also felt the exploration of the morality involved was a bit heavy-going. I don’t mind absorbing interesting debates as engaging characters get involved in challenging situations. But these characters are actually rather flat. To some extent, their roles are predetermined by their identities in past lives. Just as people loved before, so they must love again, or at least explore that possibility with each other. Yes, this has moved on to a broader canvas because Wolfsangel was exclusively Norse, whereas this has a more positive Christian element to balance out the mythology. But it remains a little mechanical as they move around this version of Europe like pawns on a God’s chess board. So, there’s plenty of blood-thirsty action and some interesting ideas here. Your choice as to whether to give Fenrir a try.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.