“Wolf Winter,’ she said, her voice small. ‘I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is.’
He was silent for a long time. ‘It’s the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal,’ he said. ‘Mortal and alone.”
― Cecilia Ekbäck, Wolf Winter
Each Halloween, I like to read a horror novel. This year marks the second in a somewhat accidentally created tradition, in which I review a macabre and magical novel centering around wolves during the Holiday season. These books just patter on up to me during this time of year, wintery and wild, all gleaming teeth and snow-capped mountains and freezing temperatures. It seems a natural progression, from horror during Halloween into the mysteries of the wild during Christmas, which is based on such ancient traditions.
Last year I reviewed William Girardi’s Hold the Dark post-Christmas, a quiet tale of death and cold in the midst of Alaskan wild. You had all year to check it out.
This year, I read Cecilia Ekbäck’s Wolf Winter, a book about the type of winter that changes a family. A book about the type of winter you just don’t come back from, as a person, as a community. It’s a book about the cold and the things that belong to it, wolves and ghosts and rumbling stomachs.
Frederika and Dorotea have moved to the Swedish Lapland with their mother, Maija, and father, Paavo. They’ve left Finland’s ghosts for the new frontier of Sweden. Sweden presents its own spirits, however, as the girls stumble upon a body as they herd the family’s goats.
Frederika especially is haunted by their grisly discovery, and by the mountainside itself. She feels it in a way only the people indigenous to the land, called the Lapps, seem to understand.
I’m not one for magic, but this is a magical book that worked for me. Wolf Winter embraces the supernatural without ever losing touch with the grim truth of reality, placing it firmly in the gothic tradition. The frostbite and starvation and desperation come on strong, as this tiny family struggles against a big cold in a little cottage nestled against a mountain. But there’s something more nestled against that mountain, with that family. Something insidious, something growing louder. Frederika hears the mountain beating to a steady rhythm. She begins to see things.
The local priest investigates the murder, the small group of townspeople on the mountain grow ever more anxious as they wonder who amongst them is a murderer, and then it begins to snow. Wolf Winter is a thriller, historical fiction, survivalist tale, and ghost story all smashed into a dough and baked into one big beautifully monstrous cookie.