Book Review: The Silver Wolf by J.C. Harvey

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication History: 2022 by Atlantic Books
Pages: 560

Publisher’s Summary:
The extraordinarily rich, dark, panoramic tale of an orphaned boy’s quest for truth and then for vengeance as war rages across 17th-century Europe.

Amidst the chaos of the Thirty Years’ War, Jack Fiskardo embarks upon a quest that will carry him inexorably from France to Amsterdam and then onto the battlefields of Germany. As he grows to manhood will he be able to unravel the mystery of his father’s death? Or will his father’s killers find him first?

The Silver Wolf is a tale of secrets and treachery and the relentlessness of fate – but it is also a story of courage and compassion, of love and loyalty and ultimately of salvation too.

Book One of Fiskardo’s War marks the start of a series of unforgettable, epic historical fiction for readers of Ken Follett and Kate Mosse.

My thanks for this review go to J.C. Harvey, Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin and NetGalley, for providing me with the pre-release e-book version of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Please support authors and publishers by purchasing The Silver Wolf from all good book stores.

The Silver Wolf (J.C. Harvey, Atlantic Books, 2022)

Released as the first book in the Fiskardo’s War series, The Silver Wolf appears to be a daunting and long read on first glance. However, the brilliant use of language and the decision to split the book into three distinct sections from author J.C. Harvey allows for a more accessible, yet still highly detailed and historically accurate, depiction of the Thirty Years’ War in 17th-century Europe, whilst offering readers an intriguing and at times exciting story of vengeance, glory and finding oneself in the face of adversity.

One of the biggest strengths in The Silver Wolf is its rich use of vocabulary and how it transports its readers to a historical world that is fleshed out in technicolour. It is clear from the opening pages that, in addition to possessing a strong knowledge of 17th-century mainland Europe and its shifting societal and military status, J.C. Harvey also has a great understanding and judgement of the most effective language to use in a historical novel. The language that is used throughout the novel manages to seamlessly combine the language of the modern reader with phrases and the flow of the inner voice of a 17th-century individual, without coming across as pretentious or awkward. The following quote is taken from the opening few pages and showcases the point terrifically.

Sant hears the thump, assesses then dismisses it. He lets the lids of his eyes fall shut – closing mah ports – and relishes across them the strum of wind and warmth and sun. Gold. It is Sant’s favourite colour.

The Silver Wolf, Part 1, Chapter 1

Harvey’s terrific use of language isn’t solely used in bringing to life characters – the building of this world unknown to many readers is told in brilliant detail, to the point where readers can feel like they are transported when taking in the descriptive sections. From the ports of Amsterdam and the trading hub at Hertzberg, to the destruction at the Battle of Stadtlohn, each location is written with vibrancy yet uniquely. This is achieved by the focus of the author on small features of each location that are used as a kind of anchor to map the surrounding areas around it, an example of this being the mermaid clock in Hertzberg. As someone who does struggle to remember names, I greatly appreciated that the author included a cast of characters at the start, stating the relationships between them. The vast amount of information could have easily been a slog for the readers to break down, however Harvey’s language allows for The Silver Wolf to have a great balance between accessibility for its readers and the building of a detailed and complete world.

This story is split into three sections but, in the tradition of a historical epic, the focus is on one character, in this case Jack Fiskardo, the son of one-time captain of King Henry IV of France’s army, Jean Fiskardo. Following the mysterious death of his father and the equally puzzling suicide of his mother shortly after, Jack (or Jag, as he is more commonly known) travels across Europe in search of answers, the titular Silver Wolf pendant around his neck being his only clue in who was behind their deaths. The first part introduces Jack to readers, as he is taken in by a family in Amsterdam and quickly shows his hot-headedness and his abilities to fight with a sword and befriend horses. For an introduction to the central characters and themes of the novel, this section was important, though the length of this book meant that this part had faded into the background by the close. The second part then skips back in time a few years, as the central narrator switches to Jack’s father Jean, with the tension with his English wife Sally after leaving her and Jack alone for months on end, and the crucial role he is assigned to change the tide of the conflict in Europe being primary plot points, culminating in the readers discovering the fates of Jean and Sally. This section is full of interesting subplots and characters, and is probably the most emotionally mature section of the whole book. There are some beautiful descriptions of the town of Belle-Dame, where the river meets the sea and has large fields and woodlands, and is where Sally and Jack are sent by Jean for protection. A quote can be found below which showcases the tranquil nature of this town, a world away from the chaos found in the majority of the novel. The final section returns to Jack, a few years older than readers left him, as he joins an army fighting in the Thirty Years’ War and gets closer to the truth, as enemies both inside and outside the city begin to close in. This section is the most intense, featuring a couple of battles including the siege of a town, but also gets occasionally bogged down with the antics of Jack’s fellow soldiers and captains, before firing back up for an exciting last fifty pages.

The field above the cottage is one of the best places in Belle-Dame to enjoy a sunset, and here, this particular evening, doing just that, are Jean Fiskardo and his son. Birds twitter in the hedges all around them as the day comes to an end, while down in the field, Hector and Perdita nuzzle a tiny foal. There go the last of the fishing boats; here come the first of the stars. Every detail, in this soft light, is clear as if it had been etched on glass.

The Silver Wolf, Part 2, Chapter 5

I do like that the author has decided to create three sections, each with their own characters, settings and historical contexts, though I am glad that the cast of characters was on hand for me to flip back to. If I was to be critical about any aspect of the narrative layout, it is that readers may have already guessed what had happened to Jean Fiskardo before part two had even started, so the tension and any questions that were raised at the end of part one were diminished when the final part started. There could have been a play around with the length of parts one and three so that not too much was disclosed, or even the swapping of parts one and two around. Nevertheless, the way the novel’s narrative was laid out ultimately added to its accessibility for its readers and allowed for three specific moments in history to be explored in detail, rather than a less fleshed out summary of events across the span of the narrative.

The Silver Wolf has been confirmed to be the first book in the Fiskardo’s War series, and it overall was an enjoyable read. I especially appreciated the level of detail in the descriptions of characters and settings, and also the language used in the narrative voice to convey time and place, both of which allowed the readers to be transported to a vivid yet historically accurate depiction of 17th-century Europe. The book is on the long side, at 560 pages, though this is helped from being a slog by the separating of the narrative into three distinct sections. I would recommend that this is bought in physical copy, as the cast of characters at the start is more accessible for someone flipping between pages, and I found that it can be easy to lose track of how far you are in to a certain section or the book when reading it on a Kindle or another e-book device. This is a book I would recommend to any readers who enjoy historical fiction, who has an interest in political and military conflicts centuries ago, or readers who enjoy reading in detail the journey of someone who goes from a boy to a man who has found its place in the world. I am intrigued to see where J.C. Harvey takes the readers next on Jack’s journey for vengeance.

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Thank you for taking the time to read my review of The Silver Wolf by J.C. Harvey. I would like to take this time to again thank J.C. Harvey, Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin and NetGalley for allowing me to read this novel ahead of release. The Kindle and Hardcover editions are both available to download from Amazon, with the latter also being available to buy at Waterstones. The link to both of these sites can be found below:

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