All Eyvind has ever wanted in life is to be a Wolfskin, a warrior of legends serving the god Thor. When his elder brother, the Wolfskin Eirik, comes home, he brings Eyvind an unexpected task. Eirik's comrade Ulf doesn't quite know what to do with his younger brother, Somerled, who has witnessed terrible tragedy and become extremely withdrawn. It has become Eyvind's task to befriend Somerled and teach him how to be a boy. As clever Somerled and strong Eyvind spend time together, hunting, climbing trees, and learning combative training, they grow in their friendship, which becomes a brotherlike bond rather than an enforced task. In time, they become blood brothers, swearing an unbreakable oath to one another.
The years pass, and Eyvind becomes a Wolfskin of renown. As Ulf prepares to depart for a place known as the Light Isles, Somerled's newfound happiness wanes, disappointed that his elder brother is leaving him behind yet again. Eyvind speaks up for him to the Jarl, the ruler of their settlement, requesting that Somerled be allowed to go to the Light Isles. Ulf doesn't want Somerled to come, but he can hardly say no to the Jarl. In turn, Eyvind ends up also going along on the voyage, something he doesn't really want to do. As they reach the Light Isles, Ulf makes a peaceful contract with the king there, and the two peoples dwell in peace alongside one another. When Ulf is viciously murdered, Somerled takes over in his brother's stead, and the once-peaceful settlement becomes one of violence and bloodlust. Eyvind must put aside his blind obedience to Somerled and their blood bond, and search for the truth in order to save both peoples.
This is an epic tale based on the dark fairytale of The Singing Harp. There is a depth of cultural richness in this novel that makes the story gripping and believable. It's believable because it's very true to life. While reading it, I could really feel characters' pain, love, loss, longing, and betrayal as if it was my own. Some parts are so beautiful they'll make your heart ache; some so cruel and horrific you'll want to weep. This is not a book for the fainthearted-- some of the unsettling parts are quite graphic, and there are some sexual parts that make this book inappropriate for younger readers. The good and the bad twine together in a way that makes it feel like an epic of your own personal history. I give it 4 stars out of 5. [489 pages.]