Book review - A Mighty Dawn by Theodore Brun
review by Becky
Sworn to honour. Broken by betrayal. Hakan, son of Haldan, chosen son of the Lord of the Northern Jutes, swears loyalty to his father in fire, in iron, and in blood. But there are always shadows that roam. When a terrible tragedy befalls Hakan's household he is forced to leave his world behind. He must seek to pledge his sword to a new king. Nameless and alone, he embarks on a journey to escape the bonds of his past and fulfil his destiny as a great warrior. Whispers of sinister forces in the north pull Hakan onwards to a kingdom plagued by mysterious and gruesome deaths. But does he have the strength to do battle with such dark foes? Or is death the only sane thing to seek in this world of blood and broken oaths?
Available on amazon.com here: A Mighty Dawn
A Mighty Dawn is one heck of a mighty debut and brings a freshness to the Viking Historical Fiction genre with a dollop of darkness, a sprinkling of tragedy, a pinch of paranormal and a packet full of drama. The prologue breaks the mold from the first three or four pages and instantly grabs the reader by the neck and pulls them head first into a world where the superstitions and beliefs of the vikings are as real as the kiss of an axe blade or a lover.
It is in fact set in the early days of the Viking Age, you don't witness a single invasion of a foreign land BUT you get to witness the troubles faced by the noble family of the Jutes in early Denmark during the 8th Century.
At first the trouble seems average, perhaps day-to-day, that of the son feeling the pressure to live up to his ruling father's honour, of the girl he loves and whom loves him but is not meant to, of rivalries between ruling families and the struggle to be rule independently without paying homage to a distant King. There is also an attack and counter-attack involving long ships and storms and of course ultimately battle.
However don't get too comfortable for the true tragedy starts to unfold as past lies, actions and secrets come forth in a tangle and sever bonds of love and blood alike. Causing a prominent son to disavow his own family, homeland and his past identity as he begins an epic journey, almost Homer/Odyssey in scale, to forge a new life with a new identity. He meets good and bad folk along the way, making enemies and establishing friendships as he travels through terrain high and low, through snow and ice, by horse and by foot, always at risk of danger from people, animals, weather or illness. Endlessly and almost bravely heading north in search for a great lord he has heard of, to whom he can swear his sword, name and life too and ultimately escape the trauma of his past. The description and experience of this journey is gritty, brutal and honest. As a shadow companion the reader will feel the hunger, thirst and fever, the cold, and witness the daunting landscape.
The journey does eventually end for this lost son and his one friend, a young thief he took pity on in a village. They find themselves at the hall of this great and famous Lord in a beautiful and rich realm. But as in the best stories there is horror behind it all - in the form of Darklings, mysterious creatures or beasts that have begun to leave the dark forests to hunt or kidnap the folk. They have already sewn fear among the population by murdering the King's first born son yet no tracks can be found for any of the sporadic killings. All that is left is blood, sometimes bodies.
Again this is where Theodore's storytelling shines for he shows the deep fear and superstitions of what the presence of such beasts and deaths signifies to these pagan people through different characters. The Lord declares them simply savage creatures and encourages loyal men to hunt them down, but his second wife with her rune castings urges sacrifices to the Gods, human sacrifices and his remaining son proves only hotheaded to wage war upon their enemies supernatural or not.
Despite the Lord's best efforts tragedy strikes twice when it emerges that his one and only daughter from his first wife has been kidnapped by the Darklings and this time they have left tracks. Soon begins a contest of wills between the Lord, the Wife and the Son over what action should be taken. A decision is only made following the cryptic message in another rune cast that alludes to a stranger, a lone warrior and so the Lost Son is called upon to track the Darklings whilst the King brings up an army behind.
This for me is where Theodore truly reshapes the typical viking historical novel, with a new Beowulf-esque drama of a warrior vs beast to save a realm and earn renown. But this time he adds a fresh touch of the supernatural and horror to the quest. For Theodore will take the Lost Son and indeed the Reader to some truly dark, grotesque, hellish places that would make any warrior wish to be somewhere else.
It is only in the true end of the book that the reader will hopefully realise like I did that the entire story is one of Consequences and although a hero does emerge at the end and the enemies are slain... fame does not always guarantee friendship, and actions of others during the strife and fear of the Darklings attacks, brings new tragedy to the Lord's household...things are very far from peaceful or from settled..."
About the sequel: Becky has reviewed that book too!
Want to adventure throught the lands of the Vikings? The height of the Vikings is an amazing period of time and there is a lot of great fiction that is based on historical facts from that period and place. Rebecca Wilson has written a guide to the genre and to some of the best works in the genre.
If you are fascinated by the subject of Vikings you should check out her blog at: http://www.soulchaserbecky.blogspot.com/
You can follow her on Twitter @soulchaserbecky.
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