The Wolf of Allendale by Hannah Spencer

The Wolf of Allendale
Hannah Spencer
HarperCollins, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Buchanan.

The wolf has returned. The cysgod-cerddwr is a fearsome monster of deep legend, a creature of darkness and hunger. Bran, the Pennaeth of the Pridani, is the only one who can save his people. But he may not be powerful enough to defeat the wolf, face down challenges to his position as Penneath, and protect his land against invaders from across the sea …. Millennia later, change is once again coming to the land and people. Bert is the last in a long line of sheep herders, content with his quiet life. But his young grandson, the lone male family member available to succeed him, is more interested in the railroad cutting across the countryside. Now sheep are disappearing and a cold winter has set in, and the lore passed down by his ancestors may not be enough for Bert to defeat a fearsome wolf who has returned, hungrier than ever…

The Wolf of Allendale is a tale of slowly creeping dread and terror, with the wolf becoming more terrible and more real with each encounter. The story moves back and forth between the first century BCE and the mid-nineteenth century and, though Bran and Bert are separated by millennia, they share a common fear for the future of their people and way of life. Bran understands immediately the nature and danger of the cysgod-cerddwr, while Bert is less certain, reluctant to believe and reliant upon knowledge that may have been corrupted by the passage of time. Each man does his duty as best he can, depending upon his own strength and his faith.

The Wolf of Allendale is an historical fantasy; as such, while some of the historical aspects may be inaccurate, the faith displayed by both men is sincere and deeply moving. Bran reflects often on the nature of the Four-Faced Goddess and of the dying-and-rising God of the Green. In her wintery aspect of The Cailleach, she is not to be trifled with, but she is not unreasonably cruel, either. In  his first serious encounter with the wolf, Bran draws upon that faith and the power of the Goddess:

He raised his rowan staff [….] He felt the sacred sigils carved beneath his fingers. Of the Goddess, the One. With her son, as One became Two. Of her triple aspect as One became Three. And of the totality as All became One. (p 66)

Millennia later, when Bert first faces the wolf at the Well of Saint Bride (another Goddess reference for those who remember, and few do), he relies upon the power of the pentagram and the elements and the ravens, but he doesn’t know why. That knowledge only comes much later.

A writer and sheep farmer in England, Spencer pours her love for her land and its folklore into her work; little details, such as the way sheep will pull down branches to reach the few remaining leaves, and the sounds and smells of the fell where they graze, and the brightness of the berries against the snow, permeate her story. The result is a tale which is beautiful and terrible, life-affirming and heart-breaking.

Highly recommended to fans of Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa series, Nina Milton’s Shaman Mystery series, Strange Magic by Syd Moore, and the Green Men series by KJ Charles.

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