It is the year 866 and a young Dane, Ylva (meaning ‘she-wolf’), finds herself orphaned in the strange land of Northumbria, after witnessing her mother’s murder in a trader’s hut, at the hands of an evil three-fingered man. Filled with anger and determined to avenge her death, Ylva takes a bow and arrows and, with her faithful companion, her dog, Geri, who she believes communicates with her, she sets off across the harsh landscape to track down the murderer and to find herself a new home. She finds it impossible to trust people, but after a woman, Cathryn, and her taciturn companion, a young boy called Bron, saves her life, Cathryn persuades Ylva to travel with them, in a journey fraught with danger at every turn, including being chased by slave traders and avoiding being chased by wolves.
This is truly a page-turner with short and fast-paced chapters. The perils they face are relentless, and it is often bleak and quite shocking in parts. The description of Ylva’s mother lying dead on the floor, surrounded by blood is so vivid. It does not allow for emotion nor compassion, as would have been the way of life at the time. The ending is equally bloody and brutal as she finally encounters the three-fingered man.
All the characters in the book have an interesting past, unknown to Ylva. This adds to the suspense as the audience become aware of their backstories before she does. It is a story of survival and courage, where everything is a sign from the gods to act upon, but with a backdrop of conversion from the old ways to Christianity, the way of life is changing all around them.
I loved this book. It blends historical fact with excellent story-telling. Highly recommended for readers of 11+.