The Silver Wolf by JC Harvey is first in the Fiskardo’s War series set in 17th century Europe during the Thirty Years War. If, like me, your history is a little hazy, the author’s note at the beginning is helpful. This was a time of sprawling wars and disputes, religious, political and national plus local personal grudges being settled. Into this soup of battle, Harvey has inserted the story of Jack Fiskardo. And what a story this is. Young Jack is an orphan, surviving on his wits in the Amsterdam docklands. Around his neck he wears a silver token of a wolf. He knows neither its provenance nor its meaning. People who meet him and recognise it, look at him askance. Jack is a brilliant hero. Feisty, brave yet considered, he has a fondness for the bullied and those weaker than himself. And he is also something of a horse whisperer.
This is a long book – 560 pages, though not as long as Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth – and slowly we pick up hints about the relevance of Jack’s wolf necklace. There is a huge cast of characters, but a limited number in each place that Jack tarries awhile. All of the time, he is on the move, looking for answers to the mysterious deaths of his parents, seeking the murderer. He slips quietly into each new community, clearly different, attracting curious glances but earning respect and affection. And all the time, war is raging somewhere in Europe. Troops are on the move, battles are won and lost, soldiers must be fed and watered, billets found. Around the troop movements, a village of suppliers grows; food, alcohol, whores, horses, munitions. Jack slips in and out of groups, sometimes changing his name.
Once I stopped worrying about the true historical context and relaxed into Jack’s story, the pages turned easily despite the occasional lull in pace. There are occasional flashbacks to Jack’s childhood in the seaside village of Belle-Dame, near Rochelle in France. Some names are similar and therefore confusing – I constantly got Bronheim and Bertholt confused – others have names and nicknames.
Excellent. Such an ambitious novel for a debut. The research and world-building is extensive, but the real star is Jack. The series can only get better.
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The Dead Men, second in the Fiskardo’s War series, will be published in 2023. Read more HERE.
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THE SILVER WOLF by @JCollissHarvey #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Lo via @SandraDanby