#BookReview The Silver Wolf by J. C. Harvey @AllenAndUnwinUK @ReadersFirst1

The Silver WolfAbout the Book

The extraordinarily rich, dark, panoramic tale of an orphaned boy’s quest for truth and then for vengeance as war rages across 17th-century Europe.

Amidst the chaos of the Thirty Years’ War, Jack Fiskardo embarks upon a quest that will carry him inexorably from France to Amsterdam and then onto the battlefields of Germany. As he grows to manhood will he be able to unravel the mystery of his father’s death? Or will his father’s killers find him first?

Format: Hardback (560 pages)          Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication date: 3rd February 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Silver Wolf is the first book in a planned trilogy featuring the feisty and resourceful Jack Fiskardo. He’s on a mission of vengeance and, as soon becomes apparent, it’s best not to get in his way. For those like me who’ve heard of the Thirty Years War but must have been asleep the day it was covered in their history class, the author provides a useful introduction to the political situation at the time. And, joy of joys, there’s a map as well showing Europe looking very different from the way it does today.

At first I wasn’t sure about the non-chronological structure of the book, which is divided into three parts, but it soon made sense. It’s May 1619 when the reader is first introduced to Jack. He’s a waif and stray, alone in the world but evidently capable of looking after himself if needed.  In part two, the reader is taken back in time, finding out more about Jack’s childhood and the events that shaped him. These include the origin of his proficiency with a sword or knife, and his natural horsemanship. We also learn about the events that will fuel his relentless quest for revenge, a quest that will take him across the war-torn continent of Europe.

There’s a picaresque quality to the novel with Jack encountering many colourful characters during his adventures. Some of my favourites were tavern owner Magda and her partner Paola, or to address her by her full name, Paola di Benedetta di Silvia. ‘Woman soldier. Hippolyte. Battle-bitch. Freak.’ An elite swordswoman herself, Paola plays an important role in honing Jack’s swordsmanship, building on the natural talent that is already evident. She provides him with some life lessons as well.

The Silver Wolf positively oozes period atmosphere such as this description of the cosmopolitan clientele of The Carpenter’s Hat inn. ‘As they make their way across the room the two men pass a game of dice, another of backgammon, a dinner-party of Venetian merchants crooning madrigals a cappella, a pedlar attempting to sell the dinner-party a tiny trembling monkey in a tasselled bolero’ as well as the innkeeper’s daughter with her ‘face bright with fiery rouge’ and ‘breasts bared almost to the nipple’.

The third and final part of the book, set between the years 1623 and 1630, picks up the story from the end of part one. Having attached himself to a company in the army of General Tilly, commander of the Catholic League’s forces, Jack has his first experience of battle, and a bloody business it is too. The author conjures up the sights and sounds of the battlefield through the eyes of army sutler (victualler), Cyrius.

‘Nothing of it is as he had expected…. These roiling clouds of grey and white. These whirling clots and straggling lines of men. The appalling lightning-like flashes in the smoke. The riderless horses, seeming in their terror not even to know to put the battlefield behind them. The cannon, there on the bald rise, hurling their shot overhead; the crowd at the battlefield’s edge, God above, as if this was a prize-fight at a fair; and all about him, everywhere, this terrible noise, which is both one sound and has somehow distinguishable within it every scream and detonation of which it is made up… This is hell, Cyrius thinks. This is what it sounds like down in hell.’

In the years that follow, Jack’s prowess on the battlefield, in hand-to-hand combat and his seeming invincibility earn him a fearsome reputation as a so-called ‘hard out man’, marked by the silver pendant he wears around his neck. The desire to avenge his father spurs him on, determined that nothing or no-one will stop him, even if it takes years. He has a job to do and, have no doubt, he’s going to do it.

The Silver Wolf is a rip-roaring adventure story with a fabulous central character who, with his facility for getting himself out of tight spots, is a sort of 17th century James Bond. The book is jam-packed with historical detail, has some lively touches of humour and a compelling plot. At over 500 pages, it’s a chunky read but well worth the time investment as far as I’m concerned. I shall be eagerly awaiting the next instalment, an extract from which is included at the end of the book and which has the brilliant first line ‘Now – where were we?’

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin via Readers First.

In three words: Action-packed, lively, dramatic

Try something similar: Master of War by David Gilman

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Jacky Colliss HarveyAbout the Author

J. C. Harvey is the fiction pen-name for best-selling non-fiction author Jacky Colliss Harvey. After studying English at Cambridge, and History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Jacky worked in museum publishing for twenty years, first at the National Portrait Gallery and then at the Royal Collection Trust, where she set up the Trust’s first commercial publishing programme.

The extraordinary history of the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and of 17th-century Europe has been an obsession of hers for as long as she can remember, and was the inspiration behind the Fiskardo’s War series, which begins now with The Silver Wolf, marking her fiction debut.

Connect with Jacky
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2 thoughts on “#BookReview The Silver Wolf by J. C. Harvey @AllenAndUnwinUK @ReadersFirst1

  1. I didn’t love this as much as you did, but I think maybe if I’d been reading the hardback version instead of a NetGalley copy I might have found it easier to concentrate and keep track of all the characters. I thought it was an impressive first novel and I’ll probably continue with the second one.

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    1. I thought it was an impressive debut too but I admit there were a lot of characters, some of whom turned up for a time and then disappeared. It worried me at first but then I just went with the story and concentrated on Jack.

      Like

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