“For Ulfar Thormodsson, the Viking town of Stenvik is the last stop on a two-year-long journey before he goes home.
But for other, larger powers, Stenvik is about to become the meeting ground in a great war: one that will see a clash of the old gods versus the new White Christ. One that will see blood wash the land.
As Ulfar becomes ever-more involved in the politics of the town, and prepares to meet these armies in a battle for Stenvik’s freedom, he Is about to learn that not all his enemies stand outside the walls.”
This is a rollicking yarn about Vikings and their mythology. An historical tale where the battle scenes are fierce, frenzied, frightful (love a bit of alliteration, me) with often unforeseen outcomes. If you like heroic fantasy set in Earth’s Nordic past, then this book is for you.
The story begins with two young sons of Jarls from somewhere in Scandinavia – the above mentioned Ulfar, a womaniser, and his less worldly cousin, Geiri – who are travelling together to Stenvik, a coastal town to create trade connections.
I’d just like to mention that Kristjansson’s set building is excellent, as I ‘saw’ Stenvik as well as I did Hedeby in the series Vikings. It is filled with characters who have secrets, dark pasts, complicated relationships, i.e., fully rounded and believable. I quickly came to know and care about the inhabitants, visitors, and prospective attackers of, Stenvik. Audun – a blacksmith of heroic strength. Harald, Stenvik’s first warrior – an astounding fighter and brutal wife-beater. Valgard – a healer with one hell of a secret agenda.
There is one true Viking historical figure, Olav Tryggvason, King of Norway, who converted his people to the Christian faith, whether they wanted to or not. This king is marching toward Stenvik, forcibly converting villages and towns to the ‘faith’ and taking a tithe of fighting men from each.
I mentioned the prospective attackers of Stenvik. These are the notorious and dreaded Viking raider leaders and their crews, coming together under one man Skargrim, who ends up leading a vast army – for the times – of around a thousand men and women. The driving force behind this army is Skuld, a völva (Scandinavian witch), fighting for her Norse gods against the Christian incursion and from her come the elements of magic which place the book firmly into the fantasy genre.
“‘Come to me.’ The voice was a whisper, a breeze on a freezing winter’s night, drifting in from the stern. A woman followed the voice, and walked to the mast. The big man walked to her and suddenly everything was quiet around them. ‘Here,’ she whispered. ‘Take this.’ She handed him a length of wood.
As he took it, she touched his bearded cheek and smiled. ‘Burn them. Burn them as they want to burn us.’
The spar of wood burst into green and white flames, revealing three vicious scars on the big man’s neck.
Screams and cries for help pierced the stillness. He jumped over the side of the ship and ran towards the house with the cross.”
The pace speeds as the story progresses and culminates in a huge bloody, gore and death-filled, almost endless battle. With many inventive and exciting ways of attacking and defending the town explored.
With all these narrative threads and fast, short, point-of-view change chapters, the book is complex, yet it remains a very good read. Plenty of drama, tension, plot twists, and a surprise ending, which will have you in a fever of anticipation for the next book.
It covers the conflict of faiths, which happened to the Vikings on epic scale under King Olav, and for a lot people giving up the Norse Gods meant an end to the world they knew, one they had all lived in for centuries. So, if you like historical fiction with a healthy touch of magic, great bloody battles, and larger than life characters, then read this book.
As an addendum, I would have liked to have more of the story taken up by the female characters. There were only little snippets from Lilia, Harald’s wife, and Skuld. Personally, I’d love a chapter from Thora’s perspective. She’s one of Skargrim’s notorious raider leaders. What a woman:
“‘ROW, ROW, ROW, YOU STINKING, SNIVELLING, SHIT BABIES! ROW! COME ON!’ Thora screamed at the men, who smiled through gritted teeth.”
I’m looking forward to reading book two of The Valhalla Saga.
All the best to you all
R B Watkinson