Review: She Wolf by Dan Smith

Author: Dan Smith
Cover illustration: Jill Calder
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication: 7th March 2019

She Wolf is the powerfully engrossing story of one young, fiercely independent, Danish girl’s fight for survival, and vengeance, in the bleak, wintery landscape of Northumbria in AD 866, following the death of her mother soon after they are washed ashore.

The story centres around Ylva’s absolute single-minded determination to get revenge for her mother’s death, revenge being a central tenet of Viking religion.  She resolutely believes that her mother has been killed by the three-fingered man, a dangerous and frightening warrior, and refuses to cry or grieve, until she has succeeded in her vengeance. 

Her fear and pain are kept at bay by her inner conversations with Geri, her faithful dog and her memories of the stories her mother told as well as the biting of the inside of her cheek, something she relies on to keep her emotions from spilling over into the grief she refuses to express.  I found this action, which is repeated at various points in the story, incredibly moving; for me, it crystallises what an incredibly courageous and fierce young girl Ylva is as she battles to control her pain, anger and fear.

Soon after her mother’s death, Ylva meets a Saxon warrior, Cathryn and her silent, wary companion, Bron.  Cathryn is determined to help Ylva, and Ylva is just as determined to journey alone.  Initially, Ylva fights against accepting any help as she is fiercely independent and naturally mistrusting of strangers, until circumstances leave her no choice.  Should she trust this stranger offering to help her, and talk her out of her vengeance?  What price is Ylva willing to pay to avenge her mother’s death? 

The action is relentless and fast-paced as the tension builds to an almost unbearable crescendo:  hunter becomes hunted, wolves and bears roam the forest …  This tension is masterfully counterbalanced with the building of fledgling friendships, blossoming trust and the tentative acceptance of help.

Ylva’s story captured not only me, but also my class who I read it to as our class reader.  We were all utterly engrossed in Ylva’s heart-stopping adventure through the forests of Northumbria, and learnt a lot about fierce girls and Viking culture.

3 thoughts on “Review: She Wolf by Dan Smith

  1. I’m very interested in this one as I loved Riddle of the Runes by Janina Ramirez (that wonderfully gothy history lady off the telly) last summer and have been waiting patiently for the follow up this summer!! This looks like it could fit the bill.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved Riddle of the Runes as well. She Wolf is very much about Ylva and her very difficult journey of self-discovery – it’s quite a dark read – Dan Smith doesn’t shy away from the violence and threat of death, but still makes it accessible for middle-grade. There is lots to learn about the Vikings too. I’d definitely recommend it – I’ve read it twice now!

      Liked by 1 person

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