A review of Ulfhildr by Mary Thaler

Published on July 4, 2024

Mary Thaler’s novel in verse, Ulfhildr, is an epic tale of vengeance, greed, violence, and betrayal, but also of courage, friendship, and trust. On a quest to avenge her spouse Thorstein, the fictional queen Ulfhildr is confronted with a series of moral and existential challenges forcing her to negotiate her roles as leader, warrior, woman, and partner with her responsibilities towards her community. Over the course of three chapters, poignantly illustrated by Niv Sekar, the short volume builds up to its moving conclusion by adding layer after layer to the queen’s tragic conflicts with her own companions and subjects.

Mary Thaler
Illustrated by Niv Sekar

Untimely Books

Ulfhildr insists that the truths of its story are to be felt in its poetic fabric, rather than comprehended by the mere consumption of its plot. To speak to her readers in this way, Thaler embeds the poem in her own variation of traditional Anglo-Saxon metre to make the book’s arc. The perpetual insistence of rolling lines, unrhymed though driven by intricate syllabic reverberation, propels the reader through Ulfhildr. The carefully curated diction invokes authentic medieval texts such as Beowulf, with which Ulfhildr shares motifs of heroism, loyalty, and kinship. Yet at key moments, the poem almost seems to speak back to traditional epics by injecting straightforward lines, such as:

There is more than one way to           manage your life.

Some build a wall           when a storm-tide rises;

I made myself a boat,           going to meet the greater risk

Thus, Thaler’s adaptation of Old English conventions and themes culminates in a compelling work of poetic narration that feels refreshing not despite, but because of, its ambitious return to medieval form.mRb

Martin Breul is a Montreal writer and caffeine-addict, currently pursuing a doctorate in Canadian literature at McGill. He writes poetry, flash fiction, reviews, and more. In 2023, Cactus Press published Martin’s debut chapbook love poems suck. Twitter/X: @BreulMartin



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