Formats available: ebook
Series: Wolves of Brittany #1
on October 27th, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Amazon
Breton Wolfe, the first of a series, is a fun early-medieval romance that takes place during a time period that we don’t often see featured in historical romances. Or possibly historical fiction, for that matter.
It’s 907 A.D. So the Romans are long gone and William the Conqueror hasn’t yet conquered much of anything. Mostly because he won’t be born for another century plus. But I use him as a touchpoint because this story is set in Brittany. Brittany eventually became a quasi-independent dukedom as part of a united France, but in 907 it was a bunch of squabbling counties and dukedoms who seem to have spent as much time making war on each other as they did in alliance.
They should have remained allies, because this story takes place at a time when the Vikings were famously going a-Viking. Their raids and occasional attempts to settle carved huge chunks out of the medieval history of France and England, among other places. Breton Wolfe is the story of one of those Viking raids that came to stay.
France wasn’t united in 907, which made it easy for the Vikings to divide, raid and occasionally conquer. But the only place seemingly more divided than France itself was Brittany. The setup of this story is that a successful Viking raid sets itself up as a kingdom in France, and that the Frankish king gives his new allies a chance to conquer fractured Brittany. I think everyone may be putting off the day they make war against each other until later, but Brittany is certainly fractured enough to conquer.
One of the young leaders of the Vikings, Valdrik Vargr, is given a small army and the remit to conquer Brittany and rule it, or die trying. Valdrik starts with the weakest link in the Breton lands, and overthrows Radult, Duke of Vannes. Radult is no great loss to the world, but his Duchess Adele is not ready to turn her homeland over to the barbarians who killed her father and brother in their earlier raids.
She’s happy to be rid of Radult, but not all that happy with the agency that accomplished the deed. Until she meets Valdrik and discovers that the Viking barbarian raider is a much better man, not to mention a much more thoughtful lord, than her disgusting husband.
Can two former enemies find a way to make peace? Even better, can they find a way to make love and not war?
Escape Rating B: This is short, eventually sweet, and a lot of fun. It also feels like the setup for a much longer story, which it is. Breton Wolfe is the first of a series, The Wolves of Brittany. So far, the wolf in the title is a nickname, and doesn’t have anything to do with any supernatural wolves. We’ll see.
The story reminds me a lot of A Sword for His Lady by Mary Wine (reviewed here). The setting is different, but the premise is the same. A strong woman is left widowed and in possession of a significant holding. She is forced by circumstances if not at actual swordpoint to give up her independence and marry her conqueror. Said conqueror turns out to be a much better man, and a much better lord for her lands, than the bastard of a husband he replaces. Eventually her resistance crumbles in the face (and other parts) of an intelligent man who knows how to treat a woman in bed. True love conquers all.
There is a difference in the details. Where in the Wine story, the heroine just doesn’t want to give up her independence to the point of being shortsighted and stupid about it, in Breton Wolfe the heroine faces a conflict of loyalties and has a rightfully difficult decision figuring out which way to turn.
While there is the definite possibility that her choice is between life and death, there are other considerations as well. Her cooperation means life and reasonable accommodations for her people. But at the same time, she is accommodating the raiders who killed her father and brother, and is effectively facilitating a Viking takeover of Brittany from its hereditary rulers. If she were a man, it would be her duty to resist, through force of arms if necessary, to her last breath.
At the same time, the current rulers of Brittany are a rapacious and ineffective lot, although not as personally disgusting as her late husband. Valdrik and his people look like they will be better stewards of the country than the men they overthrow. But Valdrik and his people still worship the Norse gods, and Brittany is a Christian country.
Adele of Vannes has a lot of hard decisions to make. Unlike the heroine in Sword, she is never stupid about her choices. Occasionally short-sighted, but never dumb. And she fumbles more than a bit while making those choices, with nearly disastrous consequences for herself and her country. But with ultimately the best intentions.
If medieval romance is your cup of mead, then Breton Wolfe looks like the start of a fascinating series.