Blog Tour/Book Review: Smile of the Wolf by Tim Leach

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop – which is also the final stop – on the blog tour for Smile of the Wolf by Tim Leach.  I’d like to thank Blake at Head of Zeus for inviting me to participate in the tour and giving me the opportunity to read the book. You can find my review below.

I’m following in the footsteps of some fabulous book bloggers who have taken part in the tour:

Day One of the tour saw Kate at For Winter Nights share her Q&A with Tim in which they discussed, amongst other things, what drew him to make Iceland the setting for the book and two books he’s looking forward to reading – one of which just happens to have ended up on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize! And Melisende at Melisende’s Library shared an extract from the opening of Smile of the Wolf and, in her review, described it as ‘a well told story of a blood-feud in Iceland, written in the style of the medieval Icelandic Sagas.’
For Day Three, Helen at She Reads Novels published her review, praising Smile of the Wolf for its ‘combination of interesting characters, atmospheric setting and poetic writing’ and describing it as ‘both moving and gripping’.
On Day Four, it was the turn of Robin at Parmenion Books to share an extract from a pivotal moment in the book.
On Day Five, Book Addict Rambles shared another extract that gives a marvellous insight into the atmosphere created in the book.
Day Six saw Nicole at The Bibliophile Chronicles share her thoughts on the book, describing it as ‘pretty much impossible to put down’, and publishing her interview with Tim Leach, in which he confided tantalisingly that his work in progress has ‘a very tenuous Arthurian connection.’


Tenth-century Iceland. One night in the darkness of midwinter, two friends set out on an adventure but end up killing a man.

Kjaran, a travelling poet who trades songs for food and shelter, and Gunnar, a feared warrior, must make a choice: conceal the deed or confess to the crime and pay the blood price to the family. For the right reasons, they make the wrong choice.  Their fateful decision leads to a brutal feud: one man is outlawed, free to be killed by anyone without consequence; the other remorselessly hunted by the dead man’s kin.

Set in a world of ice and snow, Smile of the Wolf is an epic story of exile and revenge, of duels and betrayals, and two friends struggling to survive in a desolate landscape, where honour is the only code that men abide by.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (416 pp.)    Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 12th July 2018                        Genre: Historical Fiction

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Find Smile of the Wolf on Goodreads

My Review

Back in 2013, I read – and very much enjoyed – Tim Leach’s first book, The Last King of Lydia, which tells the story of King Croesus and his eventual vanquisher, Cyrus.  In my review on Goodreads (as my reading the book pre-dated this blog), I commented how much I enjoyed the author’s prose style and looked forward to reading whatever he produces next.   Well, it’s been quite a long wait but I’ve finally got to read another of Tim’s books and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Rather than 6th century Babylon, Smile of the Wolf transports the reader to 10th century Iceland.  What immediately struck me was how the author evoked the stark beauty of the Icelandic landscape with its fleeting green summers and long, harsh winters when the Icelanders retreat into the safety and warmth of their longhouses.  ‘The taste of those nights is icy water and salted fish, the sound of the burning of the fire and the whistling of the wind, the smell is smoke and sweat and ash and earth.’

The book’s narrator is Kjaran, a skald or travelling poet, who earns his food and shelter by singing songs, reciting poems and telling stories to his hosts.  The role of poet is one of prestige in this society where the telling of stories is valued as a repository of cultural history.  ‘But there is only one true art that matters to the Northmen and that is poetry…  we know what beauty is and it is the voice that sings in the night.’  In fact, there will be occasions when the ability to tell stories will be a literal lifesaver for Kjaran and others.

Kjaran recounts his story to the reader as if we too are gathered around the peat fire.  Occasionally the narrative is interrupted by sections in which Kjaran speaks directly to an initially unidentified listener, one whose identity the reader will only learn at the end of the book.    With a poet’s keen eye, Kjaran often uses analogies with the natural world to illustrate the events he describes.  For example, observing how the children of the family have been unsettled by the atmosphere between the adults present: ‘They always feel discord most keenly, like those birds who will swarm in the sky hours before an earthquake, shaken from their roosts by tremors too soft for us to feel.’   

Soon it is Kjaran himself who is shaken from his roost, when he and his friend, Gunnar, kill a man in strange circumstances.  This sets in motion a blood feud that will last for years and involve Kjaran in a desperate struggle to stay ahead of his relentless pursuers, battling through snow, ice and cold, and bringing him into contact with strange bedfellows.

Smile of the Wolf depicts a violent society in which honour is everything, exile or death awaits those who breach its unwritten laws, and the quest for revenge can last a lifetime.  It’s a male-dominated society in which women have no legal status although, to my mind, some of the female characters in the book are just as terrifying as the male characters, if not more so!

Smile of the Wolf is a compelling story of friendship, love and betrayal and I thought it was brilliant.   In its depiction of a quest for revenge that becomes a sort of madness until ended by an act of mercy, I was reminded of John Ford’s great Western The Searchers but played out against a backdrop of ice and snow rather than prairie.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Head of Zeus, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Compelling, lyrical, atmospheric

Try something similar…The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell or Legionary: Blood Road by Gordon Doherty (click on titles to read my review)

Tim Leach credit Emma LeachAbout the Author

Tim Leach is a graduate of the Warwick Writing Programme, where he now teaches as an Assistant Professor. His first novel, The Last King of Lydia, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.  (Photo credit: Emma Leach)

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One thought on “Blog Tour/Book Review: Smile of the Wolf by Tim Leach

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this too! The descriptions of Iceland are beautifully written, aren’t they? I’m looking forward to reading The Last King of Lydia.

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