"Who are you, Eyolf Sólhrafn?" wonders Yngvar Eindriði, as he observes the he-witch who later almost becomes his lover.
A seasoned Norse warrior, Yngvar is no stranger to killing — and reading — people. Unlike what most would expect, he’s a connoisseur of the human mind — he delights in analyzing peoples' motives, desires, and contradictions. For the most part, he finds people annoyingly predictable and mundane.
Yet, something about Eyolf Sólhrafn has fired his imagination.
"By his clean-shaven cheek, he seems to be in his teens, while those fleshy lips might well belong to a maiden. But his beak-like nose is gashed by an old scar, and above it, iron-grey eyes shine keen and slippery like pools of water shaded by an arched and proud brow, betraying his maturity. A man of striking contradictions," Yngvar notes.
However, he still has his reservations about Eyolf: "[Eyolf is] now coy, now imperious, now sickeningly sweet, now arrogant, but always — always — with a mask on his face."
Nonetheless, as Yngvar — and us, through R.N. Roveleh's debut novel, Lucky Wolf — gets to know the enigmatic Eyolf better, he finds himself increasingly bedazzled by his contradictions.
Eyolf somehow manages to be all of the following: a gender-non-conforming male witch in a time and place where magic is associated with women, a renegade nobleman, a holy man, and a vessel of the fertility gods. And he also attempts to be Yngvar's confidante and lover — an offer that Yngvar, due to his fear of intimacy, sadly turns down.
Lucky Wolf is ultimately a meditation on identity, love, and death. While there are plenty of sword fights and historical details (including laugh-out-loud bawdy riddles that rival what the Bard has to offer), Roveleh's medieval tour-de-force is also a deeply psychological work. That is, it explores the formation of complexes, personalities, and why people are the way they are.
Besides exploring Yngvar's complexes and inability to get close to people, Lucky Wolf presents an unflinching and deeply sympathetic look at the colorful Eyolf. A significant portion of the novel is narrated from Eyolf's point of view — we live with him, laugh with him, and suffer with him as he ascends the social hierarchy, creates an image for himself, and falls in love with the seemingly nihilistic and indifferent Yngvar. Unlike Yngvar, Eyolf is a man who loves life — he's vibrant, energetic, and lives for the spotlight. Despite their differences, however, they manage to form a strong bond — which is ultimately put to the test when a series of political events sends both men running for their lives.
The atmosphere of 10th-century Norway is incredibly well-evoked — we get a lot of great details about Norse rituals, King Olaf Tryggvason's attempts to convert Norway to Christianity, clashes between traditional Norse religion and Christianity, Yngvar's warrior lifestyle, and Eyolf's profession. Roveleh has also presented a fascinating look into what gender non-conformity could have looked like in this time and setting.
All in all, Roveleh's Lucky Wolf is a groundbreaking historical novel. Unlike most historical reads — which tend to be heavy on history and plot and light on characterization — it features two flesh-and-blood protagonists whom we can almost reach out and touch. Which raises the question — people haven’t changed that much in the last thousand years. Why don’t we see more historical novels that focus on psychology?
Hopefully, there will be more historical novels like Lucky Wolf.
Lucky Wolf can be purchased here.