Addictive Page turner!
James Larson's writing style is fantastic! I am a huge fan of historic novels of the dark ages, and saga periods, and this is the most enjoyable read in the genre I have experienced to date.
The characters are familar, being drawn from history, but the telling is truly eloquent.
I am anxiously awaiting his second book!
Review by Hugh B. Long
An epic tale of adventure, plunder, murder and revenge
It's been a long time since I've let myself be swept into another time and place by an historical saga. And this novel, set in the tenth century in the time of the Vikings, is what I call a "delicious" read. Once I got into the book and the Norwegian names were no longer a challenge, the story moved fast, sweeping me up in this epic tale of adventure, plunder, murder and revenge. The characters were fully developed, the time and place authentic, and I learned a lot about the politics and history of the time.
The story begins in conflict as the Christian King of Norway is pitted against the old time religion of the people, who worship Odin and come together in an annual festival where they pray to Odin and ritually sacrifice animals. There is a murder which results in a prestigious family being banned from the land. Erik the Red is their teenage son and the reader watches him and his two good friends, go to sea, marry and develop trade. They also "go a Viking" which means they travel to various European countries, loot the valuables and takes slaves. Reading this is an interesting experience because by this time in the book I identified with them and liked them. Though their eyes, however, the plunder was just part of their culture and even though I personally was appalled at what a Viking raid really was, I couldn't help but understand where they were coming from.
There are also several other villains who plot our hero's demise. They are sketched so well that I could almost find myself "booing" them every time they came on the scene. This is not a book of subtleties. It's big and bold and every character is larger than life. There are good guys and bad guys and even the good guys are cruel sometimes. However, the author makes sure to let the reader know that the good guys' cruelty is justified.
The book moved quickly and swept me along in the adventure. If there was any weakness it was that I needed a little time to get the characters' names straight and, the author's use of words like "okay" made me wonder at first if the dialogue was going to be too modern. I needn't have worried though, because by the time I had finished the first fifty pages, I was so swept up in the story that I no longer noticed little details like that. By then, the characters had sprung to life and I felt I was right inside their heads, living their lives with them.
I loved this book. It was a perfect companion on a cold winter's night when I could hear the wind whistling outside my window and let myself be transported back a thousand years. When I finished all 481 pages, I wanted more. I understand the author is working on a sequel. I can't wait to read it.
Review by Linda Linguvic
To go a-viking
At a time when current literature seems surfeited with either fantasy or self-indulgent whingers, it's a delight to encounter a good fictional account of historical figures. Larson, reaching deep into the past, retrieves the Norse hero, Erik the Red. In school we learned of Erik's Atlantic journeys, but were quickly switched to Columbus as the conveyor of European culture to the Western Hemisphere. When later evidence emerged of Norse settlements in Newfoundland, the old myths gained new status. Now, Larson has brought these distant hints to full life with an engaging tale. Fraught with plots, feuds, exiles and viking raids, this is a fine book to take up on long winter nights.
The story opens with Erik as a teen-ager in 10th Century Norway. The Christians are making inroads on traditional faith. The king, although a Christian scorning pagan beliefs and rituals, is constrained from forcing conversion. Always threatened by Denmark's competitive forces, Hakon must lead his warriors in confronting invasion. Thus, he keeps peace with his nobles, lest they rebel. In the midst of these political and religious confusions, Erik's father, condemned for a killing, is exiled to Iceland, fairer than its name. Maturing on the island, he becomes caught up in feuds typical of the era. One of these conflicts, stretching back to Norway itself, brings Erik to Greenland to found the Norse colony there. Greenland thus becomes the stepping stone for Norse landings in Newfoundland.
Larson panders to no "modernisation" demands in his stirring tale. Viking raiders sought slaves, treasure and the power these brought on return home. Christian monks were slain out of hand and coastal towns ravaged mercilessly. He doesn't gloss over these incidents - they were the norm of the age. Far more significant is Larson's depiction of Christian incursions against the ancestral faiths. Most conversion was by fiat - convert an earl or a monarch and the population must follow. The alternatives were death or exile. Larson points up the tolerance of the "pagan" faith of Odin [or Wotan] in contrast to the absolutism of Christianity. There is a subliminal call for liberality of views here. The call should strike a chord with American readers whose forebears founded colonies to escape religious persecution.
Larson has obviously delved into the available material to underpin his narrative. We are given details on shipbuilding, navigation, trade practices and making war. He's careful not to let the information overwhelm the reader. He provides enough information to set the environment, then smoothly continues the story. And the theme is less the old image of the ruthless Vikings than it is the clash of faiths. Odin speaks through the runes cast by the holy man Ragnar. Ragnar, to his dismay, reads that Christianity will perservere in the Norse lands, leaving him helpless to prevent it. Larson weaves this motif through the text lightly. Neither Christian nor pagan are judged by this author, but only the characters themselves.
There's little to fault in this book. Maps would have helped, but the atlas was at hand. In an historical work these days, a reading list is an added bonus. Even science fiction writers now point to additional information. These are sins of omission, hardly glaring and not something detracting from a stirring tale, well thought out and thrillingly told. [stephen]
Review by Stephen Haines
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