Friday, 19 April 2019

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
Published by Hodder And Stoughton in February 2015.

One of my WorldReads from Sweden
One of my Top Ten Books of 2015

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are six homesteads on Blackasen Mountain.

A day's journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the Church summons her people through the snows. Then, even the oldest enemies will gather.

But now it is summer, and new settlers are come.

It is their two young daughters who find the dead man, not half an hour's walk from their cottage.

The father is away. And whether stubborn, or stupid, or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.

To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days; to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead; to the priest who doesn't care; she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain.

They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?

This review was first blogged on Stephanie Jane in 2015.

I absolutely loved Wolf Winter! Set in Swedish Lapland in 1717, the novel tells of a tiny settler community's struggle to survive during a particularly harsh and bitter winter. Adding to their fear is the knowledge that one amongst them is a murderer. Recent Finnish immigrant, Maija, is determined to discover who was responsible for a violent murder that occurred pretty much as her family arrived, however Wolf Winter is not a standard whodunnit thriller. Instead, the story is a thoughtful and measured exploration of living in an incredibly inhospitable environment and of how, when even basic survival is not guaranteed, fear can become a significant enemy.

I loved Ekback's wonderfully real descriptions of Blackasen mountain and the settler homesteads dotted around its base. Her writing allowed me to picture every aspect of the place and also to understand the eerie isolation of Maija and her children. Knowing that other people are not especially far away, but that your chances of reaching them mean they might as well be on the moon, is a terrifying prospect. Ekback never overdoes the threats to her characters so their predicaments are thoroughly believable throughout the novel, yet she continues to weave in extra strands until fear itself becomes one of their greatest challenges. Wolf Winter is not a fast moving novel. Instead its cleverly varying pace acts more like a pressure cooker and, once engrossed in the story, I found it difficult to tear myself away from the pages. A device I particularly liked was illustrating the passing of time with a series of spaced descriptive paragraphs with little or no action. The contrast then to fast-moving violent incidents was very effective.

Every character is a very real person, convincing in their actions. Maija's immigrant Finn family are used to snowy winters, but their outsiders' view of Blackasen life and responses to it is expertly portrayed. The particular difficulties of women to be heard in a strongly patriarchal society is an important theme, as is that of the Church and its failure to understand the settlers lives. I had no idea that the temporary trading and taxation towns existed so was fascinated by this detail.

I think Wolf Winter will appeal to readers who enjoy character driven novels and especially the creeping dread style of Nordic Noir. Perhaps parallels can be drawn with the recently successful Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, which I also thought was brilliant(!), although I think Wolf Winter is a more magically mysterious tale. A wonderful novel and I will eagerly await Ekback's next work.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Cecilia Ekback / Thrillers / Books from Sweden


  1. Sounds like you had a good time with this one!

    1. Loved Wolf Winter so much! It's a few years now since I read it but I still remember how cold it made me feel!