Authors: S. A. Swann
“This may be the werewolf book of the year … a fresh, page-turning take on werewolf tropes that is not to be missed.”
“Lilly lives in a world so strange that even werewolves have to fight for survival, and I found myself rooting for her from the very start. Before long, I was falling for her, too!
is a thrilling yet deeply moving journey that I never wanted to end.”
, author of
Blood and Ice
“A mesmerizing story that entertained me thoroughly and moved me deeply.
is an exciting nonstop action adventure involving the supernatural. More than that, though, it demonstrates how the human spirit, even when in a not-entirely-human body, can be transformed and redeemed by the power of love. I adored this book.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
A Secret Affair
“S. A. Swann has written a spellbinding fantasy of the Teutonic knights and the great Northern Crusade, set in a little-known period of history amidst the gloomy forests of Prussia and Lithuania. Vivid and visceral, dark and delicious, this one kept me turning pages from start to finish.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
A Feast for Crows
“Swann turns opposing viewpoints into sympathetic perspectives, clearly painting the complex political and religious dynamics of the time.”
“Swann does an excellent job of worldbuilding, and the setting of medieval Prussia is an interesting choice, adding its own unique flavor to the tale. It’s blessed with a good story and interesting premise.”
RT Book Reviews
is definitely up there for my ‘surprise find of the year.’ If you’re after an engrossing slice of historical fantasy, or if you just like werewolves, then I don’t think you’ll go wrong with this one.”
—Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review
“Swann has given readers an empathetic, remarkably drawn character in Lilly…. In
, he’s given readers engaging characters, a plausible conceit, and a greatly-paced story.”
Also by S. A. Swann
This book is dedicated to
Lynn and Lucy, for getting me started.
Anno Domini 1353
rother Josef had thought he had seen Hell itself. He had seen it in the black swellings that plagued his father and mother, sisters and brother. He had seen it in the doctors who fled at the sight of him coming from an infected house. He had seen it in the faces of those who still dared walk the streets of Nürnberg, carrying smoldering bundles of aromatic herbs to chase the infection away, or at least mask the omnipresent smell of death. He had seen it in the piles of bodies left to rot for lack of men to bury them. And he had seen it in the blackened face of a woman he loved, abandoned to die alone in her family’s house.
However, upon joining the Order, he had learned that Hell took many forms.
It was the will of God, and his superiors, that he serve his probation under the command of Komtur Heinrich, who headed a convent of warrior monks within the still barely tamed wilds of Prussia. Komtur Heinrich held a peculiar place in the Order, and his men bore a name within the Order that Josef had not heard before: Wolfjägers.
Even the device they bore had a difference from that of the wider Order: a severed wolf’s head occupied the upper left quadrant of the Teutonic Knights’ black cross.
The weapons borne by the Wolfjägers were different in character, as well. The smaller items, daggers and arrowheads, were cast of pure silver. Swords and axes were of more typical steel, but with edges clad in silver.
It was not his place to question his role, and it was not until he saw the first signs of what the wolf hunters actually hunted that he understood.
He knew that their foe was some sort of demon, but he was worldly enough to expect that the “demons” they sought would resemble men. In the depths of his self-doubt, he feared they might resemble Jews. He knew that Jews were not responsible for the pestilence that had scoured the land. During the worst of it, the synagogue at Nürnberg had stood as empty of life as the cathedrals.
But that hadn’t stopped riots in the countryside, as panicked villagers burned Jews like the city folk burned incense, in a pathetic attempt to keep the death at bay. Even decrees by Pope Clement VI hadn’t been able to halt the slaughter.
Josef didn’t believe that the men of the Order, devoted to Christ and the pope, would be so readily deceived. But when Heinrich talked of demons who walked like men, it so much resembled the rhetoric Josef had heard during the worst of the death that he wondered—and chided himself for the doubts. His faith had led him to this point, and he did not believe his service to God would be so subverted.
Soon enough, God and his Komtur saw fit to give him evidence of the demons the Wolfjägers hunted, and they were not men—Christian or Jew.
He was unprepared when Komtur Heinrich stopped them outside an unnamed village whose fields had gone wild and unharvested. At first, Josef thought they had come across an outbreak of the pestilence finding a northern foothold. But Heinrich announced,
“For those of you new to this service, observe well what we find here. We are close on the trail of the demon.”
They rode forward in silence, and unlike the plague villages Josef had seen when he had finally departed his family’s estate at Nürnberg, the first bodies he saw were those of animals. The corpses of sheep and oxen dotted an overgrown field, their bodies black with flies. Despite the decay, Josef could tell that the beasts had died by violence, not from illness. Parts of the corpses were scattered, so that an accurate census of the dead wasn’t possible.
They stopped at a house with a splintered door. Blood splattered the threshold as if in mockery of the angel of death. Inside was chaos—blood, fragments of furniture, and a broken scythe whose blade was spotted with gore and tufts of blond fur.
There were no bodies.
“It has been here,” Komtur Heinrich said, drawing attention to bloody prints in the dirt floor of the cottage, where the weather had not washed the marks away.
Pressed into the gore was the pawprint of a wolf, but a wolf that would have to be the most monstrous animal Josef had ever heard of. The gauntleted hand of a large man could barely spread wide enough to cover it.
“What manner of wolf made these prints?” Josef asked.
“Wolfbreed,” Heinrich answered. “The spawn of Hell itself. The beast has the aspect of a wolf, but stands—and thinks—as a man. It can cloak itself in human skin as it wishes, and it will ignore all wounds but the instantly mortal from all but a silver weapon.” Heinrich lifted the scythe and turned to Josef, and for a moment, in the darkness, he had the aspect of the angel of death himself. “This was a futile weapon, useless unless it took off the head of the beast with the first stroke.”
“But where are the bodies?” Josef asked, afraid of the answer.
e had his unwelcome answer at the village’s church.
At first, as they approached the small building, Josef thought that the window ledges, the roof, and the cross set in front had all been draped black in mourning. It wasn’t until they got closer that he saw that the black moved.
Every horizontal and near-horizontal surface in the area was covered with crows. The evil birds stood so closely packed that Josef’s eyes couldn’t distinguish one from another. They became a single black mass with ten thousand heads and ten thousand beaks. As one, the mass turned its eyes toward the approaching knights.
Then, as if by some demonic signal, they lifted as one, with a deafening screech and a thunderous pounding of wings against the sky. For an instant, the sun went black. Then the hellish cloud dispersed, leaving the men to view the feast that had drawn the birds here.
All the bodies had been thrown into the church, before the altar. Although the carrion birds had left little of the villagers but bone and sinew, the stench in the church was as bad as anything Josef had endured at Nürnberg. Given the state in which nature had left the bodies, the scene could have been the remnants of another plague village—a particularly gruesome one.
If it wasn’t for the drag marks.
The corpses had been killed elsewhere and methodically dumped in front of the altar. Perhaps most disturbing was the small painting of the Madonna and the Christ Child, where the faces had been clawed away.
Josef knew then that they did face a demon.