NM Browne

Bloomsbury (2011)


Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Wolf Blood was one of those novels that sounded as though it should be good, but which failed to ever engage my interest. I was largely bored while reading this, and was quite pleased when it ended. I think it may be the first of a series (it isn’t labelled as such, but the ending is suggestive), but found I didn’t care at all.

Trista is a Celtic warrior girl, captured and enslaved in battle. She has endured her captivity stoically, despite her eventual realisation that there is no real honor in it. When the only person she cares about dies, she escapes. And promptly finds herself recaptured by two Roman foot soldiers. The soldiers have their own problems though; and before too long Trista is on the run with just one of them. A werewolf unaware of his own nature, the Roman soldier must come to terms with who or what he is – and then decide what side to fight on. Trista and Morcant (the soldier) have a chance to save the Celtic tribes from Roman invasion. Will they act on it? And if they do, will they succeed?

There is not a lot to this novel. It’s a young adult novel, and thus relatively short. There is little in the way of subplots, and not a lot of depth to the characterisation. True, people during this period led much simpler lives and often had very simple goals (basically, survival). But Browne never gives us much to hold on to with Trista and Morcant. I found it very hard to empathise with them or care about them; neither really engaged either my interest or my sympathy.

The characters are probably fairly historically accurate as far as behaviour and thought processes go. We don’t really know much about this time period – literacy being very rare, so there are few records – but so far as I’m aware, the novel and characters are consistent with what we do know. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to grab the reader’s interest. Both the setting and the character’s internal lives are very bleak and lack a sense of reality.

One problem with the novel is that there is no real sense of excitement to it. We should care about the characters, whether they will achieve their goals and whether they will survive. Browne failed to inject any spark of excitement or interest into the novel – it felt like two people wandering around in the snow, not two people in deadly danger trying to save their world. Each time the characters were in peril, I had little doubt they would find a way out – and I really didn’t care what that way out was.

The other difficulty with the novel is that there isn’t anything truly original about it. The setting is historical, werewolves are a dime a dozen in supernatural literature, and strong female characters aren’t exactly new either. I wouldn’t say this novel copies anything else; it’s just that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The novel is well enough written; it flows well, it’s well enough constructed, the writing style is readable. But it’s flat.

This isn’t Browne’s first novel, and evidently others have enjoyed earlier books. However, on the evidence of this one I won’t be bothering to seek them out. Wolf Blood has little to offer older readers who want strong characters or strong plots. I am not sure how the young adult audience it’s aimed at will react. I suspect most will find it as boring as I did.