Paula Lofting’s historical fiction novel, Sons of the Wolf, commences in 1054. Wulfhere is riding home to an uncertain welcome. He and his wife parted on non-speaking terms. He anticipates his reunion with his 7 children and is not disappointed. Wulfhere has been away a number of months fighting the Scottish McBeth at Dunsinane, a brutal battle which haunts his dreams at night.
Wulfhere is a thegn, his lands and income received from King Edward. His is a comfortable life, but not luxurious. Wulfhere’s lineage is that of warriors and he is unquestionably loyal to his king.
To his complete amazement, his noble, efficient and demanding wife greets him warmly. Wulfhere committed a past transgression which caused the former unhappiness between him and his wife. Eadldytha, for her part, discovered how much she missed her husband and decides to put her bitterness behind her and rekindle the marriage they once had.
If Ealdgytha lost Wulfhere in battle, she cannot envision how she could manage their holdings by herself long term. Wulfhere’s household is hectic with unruly, if not downright vicious, sons, and, unknown to him, a burgeoning love between his eldest daughter, Freyda, and Edgar Heghlison, the lame son of his neighbor, Helghi.
Edgar’s lameness is the center of a feud between the 2 families. The vendetta has deeper roots. It extends back to a time when Wulfhere suffered a great loss and holds Helghi accountable.
Freyda and Edgar’s love affair comes to light in such a manner that that an enforced peace treaty between the families trembles under pressure. Freyda is forbidden to see the boy again.
The Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, Wulfhere and Helghi’s powerful Lord Protector, has a different view of the matter. He is determined peace shall reign in his lands and brokers an agreement between Wulfhere and Helghi to consent to a betrothal between Freyda and Edgar. He sweetens the pot with promise of lands for Freyda upon her marriage. Harold also warns of severe consequences should peace be broken.
A betrothal party is thrown with Harold in attendance. Helghi overdrinks and tries to commit an unpardonable crime against Wulfhere’s servant girl, a catalyst for Freyda’s parents to prevent the marriage by any means possible. The difficulty lies in how to accomplish this in contravention of the Earl’s desires. No one anticipates the depth of Edgar’s love and the lengths he will go to have Freyda.
Life becomes even more complicated when a message arrives for Wulfhere; a missive he cannot find the willpower to ignore. His past transgression is about to become current and taint his family life.
In the background of the turmoil of Wulfhere’s life, are political rumblings. King Edward is childless and it is evident he will have no heir. Edward is criticized for his lack of attention to kingly duties and his extreme piety.
The abduction of the Queen’s brother and nephew several years prior to Normandy rankles some members of the influential Godwinson family, while others are indifferent, especially the Queen.
The king’s exiled nephew is a favorable candidate to many, but political hostilities prevent his nephew’s return. Dissension on who will ascend the throne upon Edwards death is rampant, but the populace is unanimous they do not want a Norman to rule England.
An ousted candidate for the Earl of Northrumbia conspires with the Welsh to take back the lands he considers rightfully his, bringing England to war. A battle ensues and a horrendous defection brings the English forces to its knees.
Sons of The Wolf is told from multiple characters’ point of view, including that of Wulfhere’s children. The reader is treated to a seamless integration of characters’ lives. Paula skillfully weaves a captivating story of a man, who strives to be a good husband and father tormented by his uncontrollable desire, into a complex rendering of an era of violence, connivance and collusion.
The portrayal of characters who struggle to fulfill their roles with honor but fall short of the mark is a welcome departure from many historical fiction novels that depict protagonists as near perfect, as is the focus on a non-noble family.
A thoroughly engaging novel, Sons of The Wolf is the first of two novels. The Wolf Banner, in the editing stage at the time of publication of Sons of the Wolf completes the saga.
MY RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
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