CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 16. . . .December 19, 2014
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2014.
528 pp., trade pbk., $15.99.
See review at Vol. IV, No. 6, November 14, 1997.
The Haunting of Drang Island.
See review at Vol. V, No. 11, January 29, 1999.
The Loki Wolf.
Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.
Review by Mary Thomas.
One week before my trip to Iceland, I died in my sleep.
Not a real death, of course. Very few healthy, fifteen-year-old girls pass away in their beds. No, I died inside one of my own nightmares. In the dream I fell from a great height -- a cliff or a tower -- and every bone in my body shattered when I landed on a pile of pointed stones. I awoke immediately, lying in a chilling pool of my own sweat. I didn't sleep again for hours.
The next night I drowned in a wild ocean, the undertow pulling me down until water filled my lungs. Or was it the undertow? Did something -- a giant sea serpent perhaps -- have a grip on me? The last thing I saw before waking was the surface getting farther and farther away.
On the third night the worst nightmare -- the very worst -- invaded my mind. I was running barefoot through a deserted town in a strange country, the Northern Lights drifting through the sky. Soon the town disappeared and I sprinted across a rocky plateau, gasping for breath, my long red hair flowing in the air. Loping behind me was a gigantic wolf, its jaws snapping together and tearing off pieces of my flesh. There was no blood. No pain. But bit by bit he swallowed chunks of my body until nothing of Angela Laxness remained. (From The Loki Wolf.)
This volume which contains Arthur Slade's three horror stories flavoured with and by Icelandic sagas are actually the tales of three cousins. The first two, Draugr, set in Gimli, MB, and The Haunting of Drang Island, set on an island just north of Vancouver Island, are told by Sarah and Michael, respectively. They are twins who live in Missouri, but they have frequently summered in Gimli with their grandfather. Gimli is the largest Icelandic settlement outside of Iceland, itself, and Grandpa is an ardent student and repository of all mythology, Norse or Icelandic, and he delights in passing on as many of the folk stories as his grandchildren can take. In each of these, which I reviewed earlier and separately, the teenagers who encounter some of the nastier creatures from the myths -- the draugr (undead) and the sea serpent Jormungson, among others -- are terrified, but somehow they manage to draw on an inner strength inherited from their Icelandic ancestors that enables them to confront and defeat the monsters.
The third book, The Loki Wolf, belongs to the third cousin, Angie who is also an American, but from North Dakota. She shares with the others a lifetime of exposure to the Nordic and Icelandic myths as told by their common grandfather, and she, like they, has a good solid Icelanic gene pool of instincts to draw on. The three cousins have all been invited to fly with Grandpa to Iceland to spend Christmas with Grandpa's nephew, who is, therefore, their cousin, though they have been told to call him 'Uncle', on his farm. As the day of departure draws nearer, Angie suffers from recurring nightmares presumably based on Grandpa's tales, nightmares which Grandpa does not dismiss as an overwrought imagination, but instead says, not too reassuringly, that she 'should be safe enough'. Not surprisingly, Angie (and her parents) consider cancelling the holiday! However, she goes off with her trepidations not eased by a very turbulent flight, a bumpy landing, and Uncle Thordy's having forgotten that they were coming.
Uncle Thordy is, in fact, peculiar in the extreme. It is not surprising that Grandpa has been worried about him ever since the mysterious death of his wife a year and a half ago, and his tendency to depression seems only to have got worse with time. He has a young man helping him on the farm, doing most of the work, in fact. The attraction that he and Angie immediately feel for one another is a constant thread running through the story.
I won't go into details of the horrors that the teens run into in this story, but, as a teaser, I'll say that the featured monsters are were-wolves, and very unpleasant they are too.
Usually I don't like reading a series of stories straight through as I did with these three, but, in this case, the effects build up and up in a most satisfying and exciting way. The folkloric elements, which could have gotten a bit forced and overdone, are introduced in small enough chunks as they become relevant, and consequently they add to the tension. Grandpa is a good story teller.
There were two aspects of the stories that bothered me. One is the romantic subplot which Slade seems to feel he must introduce, or at any rate does introduce, to each of them. It is particularly weak in the case of Angie and Mordur. We keep being told that they have gone goopy over each other, but somehow it doesn't come through in their interactions. The other difficulty I had was understanding why neither Sarah nor Michael ever said anything about the somewhat similar experiences they had the previous couple of summers. Just because werewolves hadn't featured in their adventures is not a reason not to say, "Hey, last year when I was camping..." or something to that effect. But they don't. They are very much in the moment, equally upset by the events going on around them, but never drawing any parallels of their own. Odd, that a set of stories featuring three people who are close by virtue of age, friendship, and blood, who are not stupid, and who are facing incredible dangers shouldn't include some sharing sessions. Other than references to the aforesaid romantic interludes enjoyed by each of them, there is no mention of what happened earlier.
These two caveats aside, however, the three novels make truly horrifying, and, therefore, satisfying, read to be enjoyed whenever a frisson of terror or two won't keep you awake at nights.
Mary Thomas lives in Winnipeg, MB, has visited Gimli, but has no Icelandic genes at all which perhaps explains why her stay there was unmarred by nightmares of draugrs or other horrors.
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