CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 6 . . . . November 16, 2001.
In this prequel, Baird focuses on Jean MacDougall, grandmother of the 1999's The Hidden World heroine, Maeve. The story begins during the summer of 1940 with the people of Newfoundland sharing in the world's anxiety as Hitler draws Europe and Canada into an escalating conflict. Serious 15-year-old Jean worries about how vulnerable her island is -"how desirable to the enemy. A safe haven for British cargo ships and military vessels, a base from which Nazi warplanes could launch air attacks on North America. How many U-boats were growling beneath that blue sea? Was Newfoundland already surrounded?" Her anxiety worsens when her brother and Jim, her special friend, enlist, actively bringing the war into her personal and immediate environment. To her amazement and confusion, Jean finds herself transported to the parallel world of Annwn (Avalon) and gets caught up in its struggles with the Lochlannach. On four different occasions when her anxiety about the war and her future consumes her, she finds herself passing through the portal from her "Shadow World" into the world of Annwn. There she encounters many fascinating and captivating characters, including a Druid who works closely with Christians, a princess who marries her king and becomes queen, a powerful sorceress, Northmen (Norsemen), supernatural creatures like Selkies and Seelies and mythical beings like Valkyries. The Druid tells her their worlds are closely linked. "If your world suffers then so will ours," he explains. "A wind age, a wolf age"shall bring "with it evil and strife. But that means we are fellow warriors" and "your struggle shall be ours as well." With each passage, Jean finds the plight of her Annwn friends intensifying, and she realizes they look to her for help in locating the magical Spear of Lugh to defeat the enemy. She has only a brooch and a piece of bread the Druid tells her is a "potent charm against all forms of dark magic" to fight the forcews that challenge her. Because in her won world she cannot fight in the war, in Annwn she "might be able to make a difference. I know the three worlds are really one, part of one universe, and it might help my own world id this one is saved" she reasons. "Our enemies, the Nazis, are like the Lochlannach; they want to take other people's lands for their own."
Baird weaves an intricate tale of the battle between good and evil, combining historical fiction with fantasy. Although some of the characters she creates are charming and all too human (including those form the supernatural ranks), many of the numerous characters of both worlds are not fleshed out and emerge as types. Baird's description of Annwn resonates with intricately formulated detail, linking the land to the people and providing a strong sense of Newfoundland. Jean spends much of the story in this carefully crafted world and accepts the quest assigned her gracefully, albeit hesitantly. Baird has created an appealing and believable protagonist who is a worthy candidate to execute a complex quest.
The Wolves of Woden is not for the faint of heart; keeping the worlds and the characters straight demands a considerable level of sophistication and a working knowledge of Celtic legend as well as Norse mythology. The length and density of the text likewise may present a challenge to all but the most persevering reader. Nevertheless, Baird does create an imaginary and inventive story encompassing universal themes and admirable characters. Fans of fantasy may lose themselves in Annwn and its struggles and anticipate another installment in the saga.
high school teacher-librarian, Darleen Golke lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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