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S.A. Swann

REVIEW:  Wolf's Cross by S.A. Swann

REVIEW: Wolf's Cross by S.A. Swann

Dear Mr. Swann,

Books that are in medieval time settings haven’t been my thing; for me the 14th century generally conjures up images of the Plague, dank, miserable castles, and men and women who are happy to remain unwashed for as long as possible. That being the case, it took me quite a while to pick up Wolf’s Cross, but I’m glad I finally managed it.

Wolf's Cross by S.A. SwannBrother Josef, a German monk still in his probationary period, is part of an Order called the Wolfjägers. The Knights are tracking and chasing what is evidently a werewolf; their order has been mandated by the Pope to exterminate the beasts. During their hunt, the knights track the werewolf to the border of Poland. There they are attacked and nearly decimated by the beast, but Josef manages to strike it near the eye with a silver tipped arrow. The order limps into a Polish border duchy, where they are greeted with plenty of suspicion and animosity.

Maria is one of the servant girls at Gród Narew, and is charged with caring for Brother Josepf. She doesn’t live within the fortress walls, and upon returning to her family’s farm the day the Teutonic Knights arrive, Maria is confronted by her father. He is apoplectic with a combination of rage and fear and accuses Maria of removing her silver cross while repeatedly yelling “What did you do?” at her. Maria’s father doesn’t survive the night, throwing Maria’s future into jeopardy and putting her at the mercy of her younger half-brother. Maria’s step-mother and brothers care for her though, and she continues to travel daily to Gród Narew, contemplating what will become of her on her trips.

On one of Maria’s return trips from Gród Narew, she encounters Darien, a handsome man with an odd scar above his eye. From this point, the pacing of the story picks up and events move along at warp speed. Maria is quickly introduced to her wolf-side by Darien and is confused and scared by what he reveals to her. Maria was raised human, totally unaware of her werewolf heritage or what, exactly, the crucifix she wears does to her. Once she learns what she is, she struggles to reconcile the woman she knows with the unimaginable creature inside of her. As her attraction to both Josef and Darien develops, her unease with both sides of her nature grows.

Maria finds her newfound power exhilarating, but she can’t reconcile her true heritage with that of her adopted one and this plays out in her relationships with Darien and Josef. It is unfortunate that her relationship with Josef deteriorates into Maria feeling guilty for being everything that Josef has been trained to fear and hate. I think that if there were something more than attraction to balance out the overwhelming feelings of guilt, the triange between her, Josef and Darien would have worked better. With Darien, it is evident from the beginning that he despises everything humans are to the point of insanity. It takes a while for Maria to catch on to this, and even when she does, that she isn’t instantly repulsed by everything Darien represents surprised me.

I mentioned that the story began to move along quite quickly after Maria is introduced to Darien. While I was happy that the pacing picked up, I would have loved to have encountered more of Maria and Josef’s developing relationship rather than Maria’s constant guilt over her true nature and her fear that Josef would discover her. Josef is a few steps above Maria on the medevil social ladder, and there isn’t a whole lot of discussion about this from Josef’s point of view. While some of the relationship aspects of the book suffered, the worldbuilding behind the wolfbreeds and the Wolfjägers was fascinating. This book was a pleasant surprise and change of pace. B-

~Shuzluva

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
| Sony|

This is a trade paperback published Bantam Spectra, a division of Random House.

Dear Author

REVIEW: Wolfbreed by S.A. Swann

Dear Mr. Swann:

Wolfbreed is not a book I would ordinarily pick up despite my appreciation of the shifter mythology but I’m glad that I did.   Set in the Middle Ages, Wolfbreed ponders  the core of the werewolf mythology and that is who is the more beastly of creatures? Animals or humans.

When Brother Semyon von Kassel of the Order of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem survives a brutal slaughter of his Order at the hands of an inhuman beast, he believes that he has been granted a gift from God.   When he finds a litter of ten, he brings this gift to his superiors.   Together it is decided that these babes will be fostered, trained and turned into the greatest secret weapon of the Church.

Brother Semyon is a sadist at heart.   He views these creatures as animals and exhibits a sort of unnatural glee at breaking them.   “It is simple, my brother; punishment and reward, dominance and submission.   If every small sin is punished with an iron fist, they will not longer even conceive of large ones. … They obey us not to avoid pain, but because our approval is the only light and pleasure they are allowed in this world.”   Semyon, for all his belief that these creatures are animals, however, is not so repulsed that he does not avail himself of the girl beasts.

The Teutonic Order’s march in Germany to overtake the native pagan villages and turn them to Christianity is made easier when the trained beasts would “slip into its heart and tear it out.”   One the of survivors of the litter (because training was “hard”) was trained by Brother Erhard now Landkomtur Erhard.   Brother Erhard leaves Lilly in a keep kept by the Teutonic Order near one of the villages where Lilly first wrought death for her master.

This leads to a series of events that will bring Lilly into contact with Uldolf, the last surviving son of the former pagan chieftan. His family was killed eight years before and his arm torn off.   Uldolf grew up with his adoptive family, trapping animals and working leather with his one good arm.   When Uldolf finds a young girl in the woods, hurt and alone, he brings her back to his family.

The Order is desperate to find Lilly.   She represents a huge loss for the Church and they are rightfully worried about the danger she presents outside her confinement.   The search for Lilly starts to show cracks in the Church’s hold over the natives who have seen slaughter and oppression.

I had a couple of problems with the characters.   Initially, Lilly seemed almost simple minded, her thought process not shown to be mature.   Later in the book (but in a short time span) Lilly’s emotional status becomes quite complex as she grapples with her past deeds and juxtaposing it with the lessons of faith that she was taught while trained.   Part of this may be due to the fact that we get little deep point of view from Lilly until the end.   This does serve to keep the suspense up but also made some of Lilly’s actions seem contrived in beginning.   I did ask myself several times why the animals seemed to kill indiscriminately but would, from time to time, allow certain key people to survive to propel the story.

The relationship   between Lilly and Uldolph was a pivotal part of the story but I felt that their love for each other, particularly at the beginning, was missplaced particularly given Lilly’s state of mind.   She had been, essentially, brutalized at the hands of men for years and then brainwashed into being a mindless weapon.   It was a little hard for me to believe that Lilly had true feelings for Uldolph other than gratefulness.

The perversion of the Church, the challenge of faith, the capacity of forgiveness are all explored in this fantasy story.   I would recommend this to those who are intrigued by the shifter myth and the philosophical bounds.   It has a romance but while the relationship is core to the story, the romance is not.   Intellectually, this book gives a lot to ponder, but I remained detached emotionally.   B-

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.