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-