The Silver Wolf by JC Harvey

The Silver Wolf is the first in a new series, Fiskardo’s War, set in Europe during the Thirty Years’ War. This conflict, which took place between 1618 and 1648, is one I’m not very familiar with, so I thought it would be interesting to read a book set in a period that I don’t know much about.

This novel has quite a simple premise: an orphan, Jack Fiskardo (also known as Jacques or Jag to various people at various times) sets out on a quest to find his father’s killers and take revenge. However, the plot is anything but simple! Jack’s adventures take him from the French countryside to the home of an Amsterdam merchant and then to the battlefields of Germany and along the way we meet a huge cast of characters ranging from army scouts and soldiers to tavern keepers, farmers and noblemen. All of these people interact with Jack in one way or another and many of them have intriguing stories of their own, but it’s a lot to keep track of, so be aware that this is certainly not a quick, light read.

The Silver Wolf is divided into three sections: in the first, which begins in 1619, we meet Jack for the first time on the docks of Amsterdam; the second part takes us back several years to fill in some of the details of Jack’s childhood in the village of Belle-Dame near La Rochelle; and finally, in the third section we find Jack in Germany, playing his part in the events of the war while carrying out his private mission of revenge. My favourite was the middle section as it answered some of my questions and gave me a better understanding of what was going on. But although I thought the way the book was structured was quite effective, it did mean that lots of new characters were still being introduced very late in the novel, which I found slightly overwhelming.

The book is written in a lively, often playful style, and the author has opted to use modern speech and slang; I personally prefer dialogue in historical fiction to feel more ‘historical’, but I can see that the choice of language here probably suited the gritty, sometimes brutal, wartime setting. As for the Thirty Years’ War itself, as I’ve said, I previously knew very little about it, so it was good to learn more. The author’s note at the beginning of the book provides a basic outline of the war, why it was fought and the effect it had on the population of Europe, which I found very helpful!

Although I didn’t enjoy The Silver Wolf as much as I’d hoped to, for the reasons I’ve described above, I do think it’s an impressive and ambitious debut novel. I’m not sure whether I will read the second book, but I suspect it will be easier to follow than this one now that the scene has been set, so maybe I’ll be tempted!

Thanks to Allen & Unwin for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

This is book 3/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.