About this book
The Smile of the Wolf
In the darkness of midwinter, two friends set out on an adventure but end up killing a man.
Kjaran, a travelling poet who trades songs for food and shelter, and Gunnar, a feared warrior, must make a choice: conceal the deed or confess to the crime and pay the blood price to the family. For the right reasons, they make the wrong choice.
Their fateful decision leads to a brutal feud: one man is outlawed, free to be killed by anyone without consequence; the other remorselessly hunted by the dead man's kin.
Set in a world of ice and snow, Smile of the Wolf is an epic story of exile and revenge, of duels and betrayals, and two friends struggling to survive in a desolate landscape, where honour is the only code that men abide by.
The feud began in winter, when a dead man rose from the earth.
In the distant lands where men worship the White Christ, I have heard that a ghost is not such a dangerous thing. They are creatures of no substance, who may wail and howl but cannot hurt a man. But in my country, the people are warriors even in death. Our ghosts are not shadow and air, but walking flesh. They wield their weapons with as much strength as they did in life, and more bravely, for they have nothing left to fear. And so, when we heard that Hrapp Osmundsson had crawled from his grave and begun to wander his lands at night, no man in the Salmon River Valley would leave his house after dark without a good blade at his side and a shield on his arm.
In life, Hrapp had been the terror of his neighbours, ever covetous for their lands, their women, their blood. When the winter fever came on him and he knew he was soon to die, he commanded his wife to bury him upright beneath the doorway of his house, so that he could watch over his lands even in death.
Soon enough, the stories spread throughout the dale. Thord the Sly had gone to check on his sheep at night and been set upon by a dead man carrying an axe. Erik Haroldsson, a braver man, had grappled with the creature when it came for him, but was sent running for his life with the heavy tread of the ghost behind him.
No man sought to buy the farm from Hrapp’s widow. Indeed, there was talk amongst the neighbours of selling their own lands and moving on elsewhere, though there were few farm lands so prized in all of Iceland as those in the Salmon River Valley.
For all that was spoken of the ghost, I thought it mere winter talk at first, one of those foolish tales spun to pass the long cold months of near-permanent night, when men do little but huddle round their fires and drink mead, sing songs, tell stories and wait for the sun to return. I am a collector of such tales, yet I tell only the ones I know to be true — or half-true at least. This ghost story held little interest for me.
But then one night I heard Olaf the Peacock speak of it when I visited his farm to trade milk for ale; he was an honourable man, a respected chieftain of the people, and he would never tell a lie. He said that he had seen the bruises on Erik’s arms, and gone in search of the ghost himself. He had found it wandering Hrapp’s fields, bearing Hrapp’s old axe. Olaf cast a spear at it and the ghost had fled from him.
I wish he had not told me that. For it was then that I believed, and I began to tell the story myself.
About the Author
TIM LEACH is a graduate of the Warwick Writing Programme, where he now teaches as an Assistant Professor. His first novel, The Last King of Lydia, was a finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize.
Awards and Praise
PRAISE FOR TIM LEACH AND SMILE OF THE WOLF
A Sunday Times Book of the Year
“Leach’s prose is taut, his characters are richly drawn, and the story unfolds with an Icelandic believable-but-inevitable tragedy.” — Winnipeg Free Press
“A fascinating book on many levels and a thoroughly absorbing read . . . In Smile of the Wolf, lovers and children are found and lost, loyalties tested, and the harsh reality of long ago Icelandic culture affirmed in a quite brilliant re-imagining of that time and place. Fans of historical fiction and suspense will find it a highly satisfying read.” — Reviewing the Evidence
“A thoughtful, literary take on a world that is more often depicted in a boy’s adventure way. The focus in Leach’s book is not on the fighting, but on the strange, inescapable logic that makes the fighting inevitable.” — London Times
“An epic story of exile and revenge set in the snows of Iceland.” — Sheffield Telegraph
“A poetic, absorbing narrative with many of the same qualities as the medieval Icelandic sagas that it echoes and reimagines.” — Sunday Times
“Through him we understand the pitiless code of honour which drives almost everyone in the story to destruction – we understand, and we care.” — Historical Novel Society
“A tale of winter with a fiery emotional heart.” — The Mind Reels
“Smile of the Wolf bares its fangs from the first page. Like a medieval tapestry, the storytelling is rich with imagery. Readers will be lured spellbound into this lyrical and evocative Icelandic saga. It deserves huge success.” — David Gilman
PRAISE FOR THE LAST KING OF LYDIA:
FINALIST, Dylan Thomas Prize
“Intriguing . . . full of vigour and promise.” — Literary Review
“Without a doubt one of the finest pieces of writing I have read for a long time.” — For Winter Nights
“A wonderful book. The story is a gripping tale of ancient kingdoms . . . Wholly satisfying from start to finish . . . A terrific novel.” — Quick Silver Reads
PRAISE FOR THE KING AND THE SLAVE:
“A sophisticated, moving study of corrupted power . . . Compelling.” — Sunday Times
“A gripping tale of the perils of kingship and the relationships of the mighty with those who fear them most.” — Good Book Guide
“Beautiful, epic, dramatic.” — Bookbag