Smile of the Wolf

Written by Tim Leach
Review by Edward James

Tim Leach’s previous novel, The Last King of Lydia, was set in an opulent, sunlit Mediterranean city-state in classical antiquity. Nothing could be further from the setting of the present novel: poor, cold, cruel mediaeval Iceland.

I have chosen Smile of the Wolf as an Editor’s Choice primarily because of its sense of place, not just the physical place, although this is described wonderfully in all its beauty and horror, but also because of its feel for the community of mediaeval Iceland. This was a land without kings, taxes or towns, where each wretched farmstead was an independent principality at war or peace with its neighbours. Leach’s story is based on the Icelandic sagas, but these are heavy going for modern readers with their cycles of senseless violence where non-violent deaths are considered dishonourable. Leach takes us into this world and tells the tragic tale of an itinerant storyteller caught up in a family vendetta. Through him we understand the pitiless code of honour which drives almost everyone in the story to destruction – we understand, and we care.