Wolfbreed by S.A. Swann – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the mesmerizing historical fantasy novel Wolfbreed by S.A. Swann.
“A highly enjoyable novel that captivates the reader with a gripping and dark story and emotionally engaging characters that pull the reader into their world. For those who like historical fantasy this is a must-read!” – The Founding Fields
Wolfbreed is a novel that caught my eye during some random internet browsing, which is how I find a lot of the books I read, and after reading an extract of it and finding out it had the Teutonic Knights in it I simply had to read the entire thing. I sat down to read it and in around 8 hours I had finished it, I couldn’t put this book down for more than a few seconds and I found myself immediately drawn in by the gloomy and dark world of 13th century Prussia, the at times heartbreaking story of the protagonist Lilly and the themes of the story that really make you think about what defines humanity and about how religions treat each other.
In the dark lands of Prūsa, conquered and converted to the light of God by the Order of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem, the Teutonic Order, life continues on under the watchful eye of the Order’s knights. But the Order holds a secret in the keep of Johannisburg, the secret of how it really conquered Prūsa. The Wolfbreed, a group of werewolf children raised to be soldiers for God by the Order and destroy the pagans that defy His will. The last of their number, the girl known as Lilly, escapes her masters and flees only to find shelter with a simple farming family. But the Knights will not permit such a creature to roam free, and unless the young Uldorf and his family can find the humanity buried deep beneath Lilly’s bitterness and killer’s instincts, they may become merely the latest victims to fall beneath her claws.
The story in Wolfbreed is similar to the manga Elfen Lied, which the author acknowledges as the inspiration for this story, and was gripping from start to finish. You can tell that Swann has done his research on Prussia in the Teutonic Order era and it shows in the religious tension between the Order and the converted Prussians who accepted baptism rather than death, and the class differences that separate the two groups play a big part in the final third of the novel. I also really enjoyed the theme of humanity and what defines it as the Teutonics talk of Lilly as nothing but a beast with no soul and that pagans are evil but the actions of Lilly and the Prussian pagans put the lie to their rhetoric. The flashbacks into Lilly’s past were very well written and really provoke an emotional response, I haven’t empathized with a character as much as I did with Lilly for some time, and they show what exactly made Lilly into the character that she is and how the Teutonics are willing to compromise parts of their beliefs to gain victory over their enemies. The main story was captivating and each scene from Lilly tearing apart Teutonics and Germans with ease to seeing her try to adapt into a normal life was fun to read, genuinely heartwarming at times and heartbreaking at others. This novel really draws out the emotions of the reader and makes them sympathize or dislike the characters and events that take place.
The characters are the best part of the novel. Lilly is the real protagonist of the story and reading about her provokes a range of feelings, mainly sympathy for her harsh childhood with the Teutonics and for the way she views herself but also amusement as she slowly progresses from child to adult in the context of learning a normal life, and her relationship with Uldorf is quite heartwarming throughout the book. Uldorf himself is also an interesting and very empathic character, he and Lilly both being “wounded” but in different ways and how each of them help each other overcome their wounds and become stronger individuals. The other key character is the Teutonic who raised Lilly, Erhard von Stendal who is a character who I feel embodies the idea of the road to hell being paved with good intentions, everything that Erhard does is of a love of God and Christianity but this leads him to do very harsh things and associate with evil people who aren’t as devout as him. Lilly and Erhard’s relationship is an interesting one, mostly an abusive one but there are some genuine moments that if Erhard had been a more open-minded person could have changed how this book went for all of them. The book boasts a strong cast that come across as real people with real traumas and experiences that make their stories such a delight to read, by the end there was not a character main or supporting that I wasn’t either rooting for or disliked, no established character felt like a rehash or a cardboard cutout and that made each character’s own story, even if it was small, engaging and worth reading.
The action is brutal in every example, but that’s to be expected from a story inspired by Elfen Lied, a manga/anime where around 15-20 people are brutally ripped apart in the first five minutes. Lilly in her werewolf form does not mess around adn every fight scene is filled with torn apart bodies, blood coating every surface and as the novel does on one or two rather imaginative deaths. Swann’s action scenes are not the focus of the novel, that’s character development and character based plot development, but once the book reaches the final act the action scene do become more c0mmon and lasting over multiple chapters, and they are very nicely done. Lilly is not only a powerful werewolf but also one trained to be a soldier from a very young age, so it’s made clear that she does outclass every other character in the book either physically or by dint of her training, or in the final battle both of those things working in concert with each other. So while it can feel like Lilly is overpowered at times, you just need to remember that she’s meant to be. She is a werewolf after all.
The pacing of the book is well done and makes the book a breeze to read. Present segments and flashbacks are separated by clearly defined markers and differences in time setting are noted by the year being displayed on the first page of a chapter if the year has changed, so you’ll never be caught off guard by a setting switch which happens a fair few times as Lilly’s life prior to the book is revealed in pieces throughout the entire book. One thing that I found very impressive was the resources that Swann used to research Teutonic era Prussia for the novel, and as a result the accuracy of his depiction of the Prussian lands and people and the Teutonic Order and their ideals and goals in that time; a well researched novel always shows and it makes the entire experience better than reading a novel where it’s clear the author hasn’t done their research.
Now for my favourite quote, a tough choice between two clear front-runners so i’m going to go with this one because it was a real turning point for a character,
“Pray for your own sorry souls.”
The ending is a very good one and made me smile, Swann ends the story on a great note and finishes the characters stories showing how the events of the novel have affected the survivors and how Prussia changes as a result of the book’s story. To avoid spoilers I won’t say much about the ending but it was a great closer for the book and it was the way I wanted the story to end so I was very pleased with how things ended for the characters who lived. I also enjoyed the conclusions reached by some of the characters on the themes of humanity and religion, and particularly with the final character development for certain characters that I particularly liked and wanted to see where they’d end up.
For a great story that I enjoyed every bit of and characters whom I really empathized with and found it very easy to see them as real people, I give Wolfbreed a score of 7.8/10. This is a novel that any fan of historical fantasy should make it a point to read, same goes for those who just like fantasy or supernatural genres in their writing. This is a damn good book and one that I would recommend to any fantasy fan who enjoys strong and relatable characters, an interesting plot based around character development and thought-provoking scenes that make the reader think about what defines humanity and about religious conversion both willing and forced, and with some very good action scenes that are brutal and realistically gory. But if none of that is what you are looking for in your fantasy then Wolfbreed is not a novel for you, but I think that it’s a minority of fantasy fans that wouldn’t enjoy this book.
That’s it for this review, thanks for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!