I was seven years old when the Kirk Douglas-Tony Curtis movie “The Vikings” came out. Like their later collaboration in “Spartacus”, the movie was flawed historically but that didn’t matter to a seven year old. I was enthralled with the film and the lore of the Vikings. In this first book in a series Giles Kristian has awakened that feeling of being enthralled albeit on a much more real and visceral scale. The setting is Britain’s east coast, Wessex and Mercia and the main character is a young man who has no memory of his early life. The village he resides in is visited by a group of Sword-Norse and because of his permanently blood-shot eye is saved from death…the Jarl Sigurd recognizes the hand of Odin in the boy. The action throughout this tale is filled with intrigue, treachery, greed and the fierceness one would expect from a Norse wolfpack. The Sword-Norse relish in their warrior ethic, their self reliance, and their devotion to the old gods. The English with their settled ways and their White Christ religion are not only ripe targets but at times also partners and uneasy allies.
One of the more poignant moments as the English confront Sigurd and his band after a bout of treachery in the Englishman’s hall is the stark reality of what religion can do. I quote the English lord’s part of the conversation:
but hatred of your kind is planted in us at our mother’s tit. Our churchmen nurture that hatred and it grows strong…for my own part I wonder at the inconsistency of a god of peace who commands us to kill other men, even unbelievers…we might wonder how much is God’s will and how much of it is our own
Indeed I was captured throughout the book by the author’s descriptiveness whether it was a scene of bloody, gory battle or the beauty of the English countryside. For example:
We tramped through meadows where white lady’s-smock grew so thick that it looked like a mantle of fresh snow and crossed fields where knapweed and marsh bedstraw were losing their heads to grazing sheep.
I can say for a certainty that I will be reading the other books in this series. Giles Kristian has awakened my interest keenly and I am grateful for that.