Shadow Of The Wolf by Chris Carlsen
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars
Viking Age: The Sword and Sorcery group on Goodreads had a Viking Age theme, for fans of books like The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson or Scott Oden's newly released A Gathering of Ravens ...or C. Dean Andersson's Bloodsong! — Hel X 3. I went after 1970’s Berserker series.
Availability: The Berserker series was originally published in 1977-79 under pseudonym Chris Carlsen (real name Robert Holdstock). Since 2014, it has been available as an omnibus paperback edition under Holdstock: Berserker SF Gateway Omnibus: The Shadow of the Wolf, The Bull Chief, The Horned Warrior. Melvyn Grant was the cover artist for the originals, which represent the books well with Sword and Sorcery flare ala Frazetta..
1977 Grimdark!: This reads fast and drips testosterone. Monstrous possession ala lycanthropy is prominent, but here it is Odin’s ursine Berserker spirit in the spotlight. Like Jeckyl-n-hide, Harald Swiftax is cursed to relent his body to a bear-entity that is less chivalrous than himself. The Berserker in him is bestial, without empathy, and blood thirsty. This is Harald’s story, from being cursed to struggling to break it. The book is geared toward all the good and bad of stereotypical masculinity. It features mostly men (save for one screaming-hot witch who bares all); it has plenty of gore-rich melee, one overtly gratuitous, drawn-out sex scene, and a few lesser rape scenes.
The milieu is filled with supernatural forces from Nordic gods, Celtic witches, and even Lovecraftian Old Ones. Overall, entertaining. It’s like riding a wolf or bear at a rodeo (animal choices intentional). Pacing alternates from easy-going/trope-filled village pillaging to high octane savagery and horror. Several story lines had the potential to be over-the-top epic, but were left hanging or deflated. One or two moments seemed either contrived [(i.e., Harald’s tense-confrontation with other Berserker’s in Urlsgarde, followed instantly with him not caring and getting drunk)] or inconsistent [ [ (Harald and Diedre’s “relationship” seemed to diminish Elena’s impact…and given that Diedre needed an immortal… then she should have mated with a Berserker form)].
That said, there is still some great story telling employed. Most of the mysteries are resolved. The title “Shadow of the wolf” eventually makes sense. It is part of a trilogy; some mysteries remain (i.e., exactly why was Swiftax or his family targeted by Odin’s curse?)
Death Dealer Sigurd Gotthelm is a great secondary character who wears a cursed horned helmet and is reminiscent of Frazetta's Death Dealer (though arguably more interesting than the James Silke's presentation of the Death Dealer in Prisoner of the Horned Helmet 1998’s Gath of Baal). Frazetta painted the original in 1973, so perhaps that was in inspiration for Gotthelm. I hope there is more of him in the subsequent books. I have no idea where the next two installments will take me, but I own the next one and am jumping in.
View all my reviews