I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow.
While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice.
As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.
This book came to my attention when I heard the author interviewed on local radio—she is Scandinavian, but she now lives in Calgary with her family. What I heard in the interview intrigued me and I waited quite a long time to receive the book from our public library. Wolf Winter is basically a medieval murder mystery set in 16th century Sweden.
Should you read this book? Well, if you like historical fiction, murder mysteries, and Scandinavian fiction, all with a touch of the supernatural, this will be your book. The author is extremely good at producing an aura of creeping dread (to go with the usual rather bleak and somewhat gloomy haze that permeates most of Scandinavian fiction). The reader is left to decide for themselves whether the supernatural elements really happen or if the circumstances are all the result of damaged people (somewhat reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw, I felt).
None of the characters is overwhelmingly good—they all have their own baggage and problems that they are dealing with, some more complicated than others. Correspondingly, no one is absolutely evil, although a couple of characters move closer to that line than most do.
Not a book for everyone (what book is?), but very enjoyable for me.