Sunday 15 November 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Running Wolf - Helen Steadman

When a Prussian smuggler is imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in the winter of 1703, why does Queen Anne's powerful right-hand man, The Earl of Nottingham, take such a keen interest?

At the end of the turbulent 17th century, the ties that bind men are fraying, turning neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend and brother against brother. Beneath a seething layer of religious intolerance, community suspicion and political intrigue, The Running Wolf takes us deep into the heart of rebel country in the run-up to the 1715 Jacobite uprising.

Hermann Mohll is a master sword maker from Solingen in Prussia who risks his life by breaking his guild oaths and settling in England. While trying to save his family and neighbours from poverty, he is caught smuggling swords and finds himself in Morpeth Gaol facing charges of High Treason.

Determined to hold his tongue and his nerve, Mohll finds himself at the mercy of the corrupt keeper, Robert Tipstaff. The keeper fancies he can persuade the truth out of Mohll and make him face the ultimate justice: hanging, drawing and quartering. But in this tangled web of secrets and lies, just who is telling the truth?

What did I think?

After her amazing novels inspired by the Newcastle witch trials, Helen Steadman looks at the 17th century through a new pair of eyes in her latest novel, The Running Wolf.  Helen is not only an outstanding author, she is a meticulous researcher and she even forged her own sword as part of her research for The Running Wolf.   I mean, how awesome is that?!

I have to say, I was slightly nervous that a novel about a master sword maker wouldn't spark my imagination (sorry, I couldn't resist) and hold my attention, but I needn't have worried as Helen Steadman has proven yet again that she is a master wordsmith.  The very first sentence gave me goosebumps; it is just so perfect and, coupled with the sentences that followed, I felt like I should have stood up to give Helen Steadman a round of applause.  So cover me in Velcro and call me gripped.

The story spans 19 years as we follow Hermann Mohll's journey from his home in Solingen, Prussia to Shotley Bridge, North East England via a brief stay in Morpeth Gaol.  Hermann uproots his whole family as he and a team of sword makers set sail for England to make swords for the English, who do indeed like fighting each other.  I absolutely adored Hermann's family; his wife Katrin who misses her old life terribly, his spirited daughter Liesl, his mother whose tongue is as sharp as Hermann's swords and Griselda their one-eared dog.  It must have been so hard for these families to build a new life in England, only to be treated with suspicion and contempt.  The family unit is so strong and Helen Steadman's writing is so warm and descriptive that the characters are very three dimensional, virtually leaping from the page.  

The story itself is compelling and intriguing as time flicks back and forth from Hermann in Gaol to his new home in Shotley Bridge.  You can't help but wonder why he has been imprisoned and the more I got to know him the more furious I felt that he was suffering such indignity.  I find it remarkable that Helen Steadman can write so much history into her novels so that you learn something new whilst reading a fictional story.  Aside from the real sword makers of Shotley Bridge being the inspiration for the story, I was delighted to see the salt pans of South Shields getting a mention as I actually only found out about them recently when reading an information board in the town.  Helen Steadman really does bring history to life through her wonderful fact-based storytelling.

The Running Wolf is simply stunning; it's so beautifully written, with a riveting plot and enthralling characters that could have leapt out from the page along with the sparks from the forge.  This is one not to be missed and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Thank you to Love Books Tours for sending me a digital copy to read and review for the tour; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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About the author:

Helen Steadman lives in the foothills of the North Pennines, and she particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history of the north east of England. Following her MA in creative writing at Manchester Met, Helen is now completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen to determine whether a writer can use psycho-physical techniques to create authentic fictional characters.   

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