The Teutonic Order, under the sadistic Brother Semyon, once trained wolfbreed (werewolves) as holy war machines. But when the Order lost control of the wolfbreed, they changed focus. Now, a century after the events of Wolfbreed, the Order believes the werewolves are Satanic and are dedicated to exterminating them.
In Wolf’s Cross, a group of Order knights chases a werewolf onto Polish land. After a disastrous battle, the bloodied and tattered knights seek shelter at the castle of Polish leader Wojewoda Boleslaw. Two intertwined plot lines emerge. One focuses on the conflict between the Order and the Polish nobility. The other revolves around Maria, a young woman employed at the castle. She learns a devastating secret about herself and is torn between two men: an injured Order knight, and a charismatic stranger she meets in the woods. Along the way, she develops from subservient peasant girl to strong woman.
S.A. Swann’s writing style keeps the story moving quickly. The prose is descriptive but not so much that it gets bogged down, and the pace is fast. I often found that I’d just read 75 pages without even noticing. The action is frequent and exciting, and the novel also touches on some deeper themes, such as prejudice and the idea that one can have a traumatic past without letting it turn one into a monster.
I didn’t like Wolf’s Cross quite as much as I did Wolfbreed. Part of the reason is that I loved the romantic plotline in Wolfbreed. Lilly and Uldolf’s story felt really fresh, with its question of whether these two characters could overcome the horrific way their paths first crossed. Maria’s choice between the “knight in shining armor” and the “bad boy” feels like more well-trodden ground. I also don’t recall Wolfbreed dwelling so much on the sexual aspects of lycanthropy. Sure, I know animals mate, but from this and other books I’ve learned that I don’t enjoy reading about it from inside the animal’s mind. It makes me feel icky. Then again, Wolfbreed and Wolf’s Cross are not for the squeamish in general. Besides the sex, there are plenty of disembowelments, dismemberments, and so on.
I did really love Hanna, Maria’s stepmother, and would eagerly read a prequel about her life if S.A. Swann were to write it.
I recommend Wolf’s Cross to people who like their werewolves visceral and their novels gritty but with a philosophical moment here and there.