By Katy Moran
Candlewick Press, 2009
For Young Adult Readers: In the wilds of Dark Age Britain, a bard abandons his son, Essa, in a village trapped between two feuding kingdoms. As the once-nomadic boy grows rooted in the life of the Wolf Folk, forging allegiances and young love, King Penda of Mercia threatens to attack, thrusting Essa into the violent and cunning world of the tribal rulers. Joined by unlikely friends, unsure of whom to trust — or even of who he is — Essa sets off on a dangerous journey, using his newfound intuitive gifts to guide them as a deadly battle brews. Will his desperate efforts to save his loved ones bring him closer to understanding why his father has never returned? Fast-paced and full of intrigue, this debut novel transports readers to a time of blood and steel, when peace was fleeting and won only at a cost.
Review from Booklist: The sword-and-shield pageantry found in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and Paolini’s Alagaesia gets a historically based tweak in this adventure set in Britain circa 650 CE. In a land where allegiance to lords is held above all else, Essa is a young man with no king. The son of a roving trader and secret-peddler named Cai, Essa finds himself consumed with his ancestry: he is neither fully Wolf Folk nor Wixma nor Northumbrian, treads the line between British and Anglish, and has no mother—and then Cai disappears, too. Three years later, a routine reconnaissance mission mires Essa within a coming war between kingdoms. Keeping track of the various factions is a chore eased somewhat by a chart at the front of the book; Moran, nonetheless, prevails on the strength of her theme of shifting loyalties, as only fealty to his true self can pull our hero through. Essa’s ability to see through the eyes of animals seems a bit tacked on, but once the climactic struggle kicks in, the result is no less than rousing.