“The Smile of the Wolf” tells the story of two friends; Kjaran and Gunnar and how their hunt for a ghost turns into a struggle for survival, honour and love.
Tim Leach’s book paints a painfully vivid yet entrancing image of eleventh century Iceland. It is a harsh land whose people have laws to match. Yet it is also a beautiful land, a place of solace for those wanting to escape the yoke of kings. The setting reflects the story – the contrasts of the land embrace the contrasts of the characters. Kjaran is a skald, a poet, who has never killed but shapes the world with his songs. Gunnar is a battle-hardened warrior, who is often at loss for words. The delicacy and hardness of Iceland can be found in these two men.
The book gives an insight to the minor details of Icelandic life as well. It is because of the details such as what Kjaran and Gunnar fear, what they eat, what they like doing in their free time that the reader gets to know the characters. The story is also a glimpse into the realities of a culture long buried under blankets of snow. The author has struck the perfect balance with how much detail is revealed. At no point does the reader feel overburdened by the influx of information, it all serves a purpose.
The interactions between the characters are what make the story. Not only what they do on the page, but also what is left untold or unthought of. Tim Leach is a master of taking his protagonists and antagonists from the page and sliding them into the reality that is the reader’s mind.
The depth of the characters is not the book’s only strong point, however. It is also the refreshing approach to the story of revenge. Tim Leach not only offers his readers a breath stealing ride of a plot, he also digs into the core of what vengeance is – a destructive monster which can never be sated. The story is also about the fallacy of human pride; about how often we fear shame, such that it takes us down a much darker path than if we had just let something go.
What ties the three pillars of storytelling together is the choice of narration. The story is told to the reader by Kjaran, as if they were there in eleventh century Iceland. Kjaran’s voice is strong and unique. He invites the reader to join him at the fireplace, grab a mug of ale and fall into the rushing stream that is the story of “The Smile of the Wolf”. The book becomes one of the sagas of old which adds a great deal of credibility to the storyteller.
There are some things to keep in mind, however. “The Smile of the Wolf” comes with a steep learning curve. It may take some time to completely immerse yourself in the story as the unfamiliar names and quite alien culture, although intriguing, can take time getting used to.
The book is a good read for not only those accustomed to historical fiction, but also fantasy fiction. Iceland is a land just as mystical as it is real and will keep you wondering whether those ghosts and witches from Kjaran’s stories might not move through the darkness of the trees.
Tim Leach’s novel is a masterfully woven story about the struggle of uniting love, friendship and personal honor. The book is not an easy one, as it forces us to think about what we as humans can do when any or all of those values are threatened.
You can buy Smile of the Wolf on Amazon here.