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Wolf Winter

Cecilia Ekbäck


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Digital Audiobook (1/26/2015)


A compelling historical thriller set in 1700s Sweden from an exciting new literary talent.

"Exquisitely suspenseful, beautifully written, and highly recommended." -- Lee Child

"Visually acute, skillfully written; it won't easily erase its tracks in the reader's mind." -- Hilary Mantel

"Wolf winter,'" she said, her voice small. "I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is." He was silent for a long time. "It's the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal," he said. "Mortal and alone."

Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackån, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow.

While herding the family's goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors' strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson's widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackån. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice.

As the seasons change, and the "wolf winter," the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family's survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers' secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.

Praise For Wolf Winter

“In the early 18th century, Maija, her husband Paavo, and their two daughters emigrate from Finland to Swedish Lapland, leaving behind a troubled past. The country is rich and beautiful, but dominated by the ominous mountain Blackasen, said to be a dwelling for evil spirits and dark creatures. Out herding goats, the girls find the body of one of the other settlers. Maija is outspoken in her belief that their neighbor was murdered, despite the reluctance of the other settlers to admit. Winter arrives early and fiercely... As the “wolf winter” continues unabated, they learn that there is nothing so dangerous as fear.”
—Lyn Roberts, Square Books (Oxford, MS)

“Cecilia Ekback's tale of Swedish Lapland in 1717 gives insight into the land and people of the far north and is also hard to let go.”
—Barbara Theroux, Fact & Fiction (Missoula, MT)

Wolf Winter is richly atmospheric and vivid. The cold is beyond imagining, as is the enveloping dark and the terrible hunger as stores diminish. Inevitably, Wolf Winter will be compared with Hannah Kent's remarkable Burial Rites. Ekback, however, has achieved something different. Wolf Winter is an historical crime mystery in the Nordic noir tradition, which chills as it impresses.”
—Anna Creer, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

“Swedish Lapland of 1717 is evoked so vividly that it seeps into your bones… A highly intelligent piece of historical Scandi-noir.”
The Times (UK)

“A compelling, suspenseful story.”
Sunday Times (UK)

“Swedish-born Cecilia Ekbäck's debut novel is a real page-turner. Similar to Stephen King's writing style and imagination, the novel, which is set in 1717 Lapland, takes us on an exhilarating journey (4 stars).”
Ok! Magazine (UK)

“Fans of The Minaturist will love flashing back to the dark bleakness of 1717 Lapland in Cecilia Ekbäck's debut.”
— Grazia Magazine (UK)

“Ekbäck keeps the historical setting vivid and laced with pertinent details, but her characters are multifaceted… There is nothing quaint about Ekbäck's 18th century Sweden, which is full of political gaming at all levels, and a landscape that seems bent on killing anyone who commits to living on it. Ekbäck could certainly follow up with a sequel, but with her balance of fine prose and clever plotting, I hope she ventures into different times and characters, as I'm excited to see her range.”
The National Post (Canada)

“The time and place seem so remote as to be unearthly, and the style has a stealthy quality, like a silent fall of snow; suddenly, the reader is enveloped. The story creeps up and possesses the imagination; there's something eerie in the way half-understood and only half-seen events leave their mark. It's a powerful feat of suggestion, visually acute, skillfully written; it won't easily erase its tracks in the reader's mind.”
— Hilary Mantel, author of the Man Booker Prize-Winning Bestsellers Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

“Exquisitely suspenseful, beautifully written, and highly recommended.”
—Lee Child, #1 internationally bestselling author of the Jack Reacher thrillers

“The most brilliantly, dark, eerie, intriguing, out-of-this-world tale I've ever read... Think The Killing and then square it.”
—Ruby Wax, author of Sane New World

Wolf Winter is a beautiful novel, full of wisdom and poetry. Cecilia Ekbäck writes dark, compelling prose steeped in a powerful sense of place. Spellbinding.”
—Saskia Sarginson, author of Without You

"It's rare to come across such an original, compelling and beautifully written novel. Set in a haunted landscape during a dark Scandinavian winter in the 1700s, Wolf Winter has a mystery at its core, supported by richly drawn characters, magical language and so many twists and turns that you'll be reading and shivering into the wee hours."
—Pam Lewis, author of Speak Softly, She Can Hear and A Young Wife

“As dark as a winter night in the Arctic, as magical as the northern lights, Wolf Winter kept me turning pages long past my bedtime. A marvelous mixture of terror and delight.”
—Lauren B. Davis, author of The Empty Room and Against a Darkening Sky

“Rich in history and authentic detail, Wolf Winter is a deeply satisfying read. I highly recommend it.”
—Rene Denfeld, author of The Enchanted

“Swedish-born debut author Ekbäck writes with deliberate pacing and immerses the reader in the endless snowfall of winter with her hypnotic prose.”
—Emily Byers, Library Journal, Editor's Fall Pick

“This snapshot of life in a place where winter can be unspeakably cruel, where simply staying alive is a victory, proves irresistible.”
The Kirkus Review

“Ekbäck is at her best when describing the harsh, unforgiving land and the family's unending battle with nature.”
—Jordan Foster, The Strand Magazine

Wolf Winter eminently repays reading for the beauty of its prose, its strange, compelling atmosphere and its tremendous evocation of the stark, dangerous, threatening place, which exists in the far north and in the hearts of all of us.”
– Melanie McGrath, The Guardian (UK)

“In Wolf Winter, Swede Cecilia Ekbäck (writing in English) provides something fresh: for a start, a period setting (Swedish Lapland in 1717) and a haunting poetic strain not found elsewhere in the genre, except perhaps in the novels of Johan Theorin…. Highly individual fare.”
– Barry Forshaw, Financial Times (UK)

Wolf Winter is an absorbing and impressive debut from an author who I look forward to reading again.”
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

Hachette Books, 9781602862944, 376pp.

Publication Date: November 3, 2015

About the Author

Cecilia Ekbä was born in Sweden in a small northern town. Her parents come from Lapland. In Wolf Winter, her first novel, she returns home to the landscape and the characters of her childhood. Ekbä is a Professional Member of PEN American Center. She lives in Calgary with her husband and twin daughters.

Conversation Starters from

1. To what extent does landscape affect the behavior of the characters in Wolf Winter?

2. There are three narrators in this story: Maija, Frederika, and the priest. How do their narrative styles differ?

3. Women are at the center of this story. Given the period in which the book is set, their agency is limited. How easy is it for a modern reader to accept this?

4. How would you characterize the relationship between Maija and Frederika?

5. Jutta, Majia’s grandmother, appears to her. What role does she play? Why is Maija so hostile to Frederika’s gifts?

6. What role do animals – real and imagined – play in this story?

7. Other, older belief systems lie very close to the surface of people’s lives on Blackåsen Mountain. How does the Church attempt to control and manipulate them for its own end?

8. Cecila Ekbäck has described a “Wolf Winter” as a moment in our lives when we confront our very darkest thoughts. How do the three main characters emerge from their Wolf Winters?

9. What do you imagine lies in store for the priest?

10. When Maija’s husband returns (we may assume he does), how might their relationship have changed?

11. Each of the settlers has brought with them to their new homes on Blackåsen Mountain the burdens of their pasts. How do the events in the book impact on them?

12. What lies behind Elin Eriksson’s actions?

13. The Lapps lead their lives largely in parallel to the settlers. What happens when the two communities come together?

14. Why does Maija persist in her inquiries?

15. Do you think the priest is a moral, immoral, or amoral agent in the story?

16. Why do you think the other settlers regard Maija as a threat?