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Review: Lore of the Sælvatici (narrated by Joanna Swan)

A slightly different review this time, as I didn't have time to venture out to watch a show. Thankfully, local actor Joanna Swan got in touch to let me know about an audio-drama that she had been working on. So, whilst curling up on the sofa, cooking dinner, ironing, and cleaning out the chicken coop, I immersed myself in a newly adapted audio drama. It’s called Lore of the Sælvatici.

It was written by Steven C Davis and Wulfenstaeg, as far as I’m aware not necessarily as a performative piece, but once you’ve heard the stories performed by Joanna, you’ll understand why the stories lend themselves brilliantly to a more dramatic format.

I went into it completely in the dark about the content of the drama, but it was quickly explained upon beginning the story. It centres around stories that were uncovered in a house in Yorkshire which tell of the mysterious Sælvatici, whose identity is unclear – were they a group of freedom fighters, were they terrorists, were they Robin Hood’s men, or perhaps members of a cult? Whatever they were, the tales help to create a vivid picture of life in the Dark Ages, and they’ve been painstakingly pieced together by authors Steven C Davis and Wulfenstaeg.

So, what did I think? Well, the first thing to note is a practical point. It clocks in at over three and a half hours, but the slightly daunting length needn’t put you off. Although they are all inter-linking tales, each chapter stands up as a great piece of storytelling independently, so if you don’t have the time to listen to it in one go, it matters not. It’s handily organised into neat little chapters, so you can metaphorically put it down and pick it up at your leisure.

There was a handy explanation about how the project came about, and then the adventure began in earnest. I have to say, it did get off to a slightly slow start, as I just could not get on board with the poetry about the one they call Hurnungaz – and the name is etched on my memory as it was seemingly repeated about a dozen times throughout. But once we moved on from bloody Hurnungaz, from there, the action really came to life, and in no small part thanks to the wonderful work of Joanna Swan. The whole thing is split into 40 or so chapters, so there’s simply too many to pay tribute to Joanna’s voice acting in each chapter, but as a general comment, she gave the whole thing a wonderful variety not least in terms of her range of voices and accents. She offered a sense of authority when needed, instilled it with deep emotion at times, and just generally heightened the sense of drama throughout. It’s a body of work that she can be immensely proud of, as she was captivating and engaging from start to finish, keeping me hooked on stories that, being completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have sought out beforehand. However, having now come across the tales in this format, I am definitely keen to hear more.

As I mentioned, there’s too many chapters to review individually, but for me, here’s some of the standout moments. The Urchin Queen was a thoroughly enjoyable tale – winding its way down a cruel and violent path into a joyful and triumphant love story. This was also a particular standout moment for Joanna’s voice work.

Raven Sister, Raven Brother is a short one, but extremely engaging and brilliantly entertaining. Aeldraggysil (Aildrasil) was incredibly dramatic, Saul & the Dybbuk had both great narration and excellent background sounds which really added to the storytelling. Mother Hode was powerful, ominous, and dramatic, Faces of the Forest was very atmospheric, and Carlotta had an excellent narrative, was gripping and very sexual. They’re all very unique stories, and definitely worth a listen.

The paperback version of the book has been available for quite some time, and I’m sure it’s available at all major stockists, but this version, more of an audio drama rather than a straight audiobook, is released on Audible on the 15th October. If woodland, Pagan, and Norse folklore is up your street, then you’ll love this, but actually, even if it’s not, if you’re a fan of captivating storytelling and engaging voice acting, then why not consider something a little different and give this brilliant piece of work a shot.


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