The world of Torak and Renn is that of six thousand years ago: after the Ice Age, but before farming spread to north-west Europe, when the land was one vast Forest. The people looked like you or me, but their way of life was very different. They lived in small clans, some staying at a campsite for a few days or moons, others staying put all year round. They didn’t have writing, metals or the wheel – but they didn’t need them. They were superb survivors. They knew all about the animals, trees, plants and rocks around them. When they wanted something they knew where to find it, or how to make it.
Like the previous books in the series, Viper’s Daughter takes place in northern Scandinavia. The wildlife which Torak and Renn encounter on their adventures is appropriate to the region, as are the seasonal fluctuations in the hours of daylight. However I’ve changed mountains, rivers and coastlines to suit the stories, which means that you won’t find the specific topography of the Far North or the Forest in a modern atlas.
About the books
The Wolf Brother series plunges us into the world of the Stone Age: a world of hunter-gatherers, demons and Hidden People. We meet Torak and his loyal pack-brother Wolf, as well as his friend Renn of the Raven Clan. The first six books in the series told of their adventures against the evil Soul-Eaters, during which time Torak learns that he’s a spirit walker who can inhabit the souls of other creatures and Renn learns that she’s a Mage – although as her power derives from her Soul-Eater mother, Seshru, she’s conflicted about using it. As for Wolf, he exists to hunt demons and keep his beloved pack-brother, Tall Tailless, safe. Book Six, Ghost Hunter, ends with the death of the last Soul-Eater, Eostra.
In my new adventure, Viper's Daughter, Torak and Renn have been living in the Forest with their faithful pack-brother, Wolf. But their happiness is shattered when Renn realizes Torak is in danger and she's the threat. When she mysteriously disappears, Torak and Wolf brave the Far North to find her. At the mercy of the Sea Mother and haunted by ravenous ice bears, their quest leads them to the Edge of the World. There they must face an enemy more evil than any they've encountered.
Researching Viper's Daughter
To research the story I travelled to the remote Chukotka Peninsula of far eastern Siberia: it’s bigger than France, with a population of just a few thousand, and no roads. From there I journeyed by ice-breaker through the Bering Strait to Wrangel Island, the last known refuge of the woolly mammoth. The island was once part of Beringia, the land which bridged Asia and America; and as Wrangel wasn’t glaciated, it hasn’t changed much since then. I was surprised to find luxuriant vegetation rich in berries and mushrooms. We also came upon a mammoth tusk half-buried in a dry riverbed.
Back in the early 2000s when I began the series, I wasn’t aware that mammoths had survived on Wrangel Island until long after Torak and Renn’s time. Nor did I know that although the Wrangel mammoths were smaller than their mainland forebears, remains of larger mammoths from about six thousand years ago had been unearthed on the Pribilof Islands. For these reasons I’ve decided that it isn’t too much of a stretch for Torak, Renn and Wolf to encounter mammoths in Viper’s Daughter.
When we reached Wrangel Island, we found polar bear tracks on every beach we explored – and often we found the bears themselves. Like Torak, I’ve sat in a small boat (in my case a Zodiac) and glanced up to see a polar bear staring down at me from a clifftop. I’ve seen one rise from its hiding-place on the shore where I was standing and amble into the sea; and many times I’ve found it hard to distinguish between driftwood, waves and bears. Nor did I make up Torak’s idea of warding them off by imitating the sound of walrus tusks striking rocks. Russian scientists on Wrangel devised this trick, which has worked so well that in forty years they’ve never had to shoot a bear.
Like Torak and Renn, I’ve seen a snowy owl hovering perfectly still in winds so strong I could hardly stand. I’ve paddled under cliffs thronged with seabirds, and got close to snow geese, musk-oxen, walruses and bearded seals. In the Bering Strait I’ve seen whales in huge numbers, and like Renn I’ve had a near-miss with a humpback whale. I was on the deck of the ship and the whale surfaced so close to the prow where I was standing that I feared we’d hurt it. Luckily we didn’t, but for one unforgettable moment its brown eye met mine.
I didn’t make up the island of birds either. In the Bering Strait we came upon a vast ‘island’ of short-tailed shearwaters feeding on krill churned up by a pod of whales hunting beneath. The island comprised many thousands of tiny voiceless birds, and no one on board, including our guides, had ever seen anything like it. We all felt privileged to watch.
I got ideas for the Narwal Clan from the traditional ways of the Chukchi of Chukotka, who split walrus hides (which are about 6 cm thick) to make their beautiful skinboats, and hunted geese with slingstones (bolas). They also used to give their children the toughest of upbringings so that they would survive the rigours of the Arctic. Like Torak, I’ve munched tangy roseroot and glossy black smoked whale meat. But I gave quiviak (as it’s usually spelt) a miss when I came across it in Greenland.
Waigo was inspired by a haunting visit to the abandoned Eskimo village of Naukan at Cape Dezhnev (the people who lived at Naukan were neither Chukchi nor Inuit; they called themselves Eskimos, and still do) where I climbed steep green hills crowned with towering whale-jaw arches and watched sea-fog rolling in. Many other details, such as Naiginn’s halibut hook, and the trick of scoring signs on the undersides of bracket mushrooms, I picked up from the Haida and Tlingit people on a visit to Alaska and the islands of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia.
In depicting the volcanic landscape of the Far North, I’ve drawn on my travels in Iceland and the Aeolian Islands off Sicily, where I explored Vulcano’s hissing yellow fumaroles and climbed the ever-active volcano of Stromboli. It was in Chukotka, while I was nosing about downstream of a hot spring wafting sulphurous steam, that I spotted several ready-cooked fish drifting past.
To help me picture the ice cave, I ventured into a huge one beneath the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska. The cave mouth was dangerously unstable and I had to wait for a sign from my guide before darting inside. I couldn’t have evoked the roar of the torrent, the vast weight of the glacier overhead, or that otherworldly blue cavern if I hadn’t experienced it myself.
As for wolves, I’ve been a patron of the UK Wolf Conservation Trust since Wolf Brother came out in 2004, until it closed to the public and the wolves went into well-deserved retirement, in 2018. Over the years I’ve cherished the wolves’ foibles and their different characters, which continue to provide inspiration for the new books.
Michelle Paver, March 2020.