Hannah Spencer, The Wolf of Allendale
reviewed by Alison McBain
The Wolf of Allendale
Date: January 17, 2017
Hardcover: 214 pages
I read a lot of books in a lot of genres, but two of my favorites will always be fantasy and history. I find, though, that even better than just one or the other of those genres is a combination of the two: a history-rich fantasy or a fantasy based on a historical period. Even better than that is when such a blended story is told with a masterful composition of suspenseful pacing, intense character creation and layers of beautiful description, and from an author relatively new to me.
All of those “betters” were present in Hannah Spencer’s new novel, The Wolf of Allendale. Although she has several publications under her belt, including a couple of short stories with Bewildering Stories, I was really impressed with this wonderfully told story filled with the resonance of magic — and mistakes — that echo through time.
The story begins with Bert, a shepherd from a small English village who is training his grandson to be his apprentice. Bert is opposed to new things, such as the railroad that is supposed to come through town, while his grandson Thomas embraces the industrial revolution that is just beginning to take hold in the region. This becomes a long-running thread through the story, of the old versus the new and technology versus nature. The heroes of the story are opposed to change, even when it is inevitable. And it often turns out their fears are justified, as change causes the loss of the old ways of magic and ritual which helps protect the village from the harmful spirit which has haunted it since the time of the Druids.
The story is split between Bert’s time and even further back in history, to before the Roman conquest of Britain. Bran is a Druid leader of the Pridani tribe, and he faces as many new challenges in his time as Bert does in his. In addition to invaders coming up from the south and bringing with them roads and new weaponry, the Pridani are under attack from a creature called a cysgod cerddwr, a wolf-like, evil beast bent on destruction.
The story is told through these two main characters, whose only connection at first seems to be the land they live on; their villages both occupy the same space, although Bert lives there many years in the future from Bran. But as the stories unfold in a parallel fashion, the reader is shown a glimpse into how past and present can become entwined through a supernatural threat. How each character deals with the threat can determine whether they, and their ancestors, will continue to maintain their connection to their land for many years in the future.
I won’t give out any spoilers to the conclusion of the story, but I do want to say one thing about the style of the book. It’s not told in the modern style of fast-paced action scenes, which seems to be the trend of many types of horror and dark fantasy writing these days.
Instead, I think one part of Ms. Spencer’s writing style that I enjoyed the most was the slow reveal of the different threads of the story and how they all came together. While there were some more quickly paced scenes, especially nearer to the end, most of the book is told as a slow reveal, which I think reflects very well on the small village setting and mode of life. There are beautiful passages of description and some unique phrasing in her writing that really lingers, from beginning to end.
I really enjoyed reading The Wolf of Allendale, and I hope you will, too.
Copyright © 2017 by Alison McBain