Series review - Valhalla Saga
by Snorri Cristjansson
reviews by Becky
Valhalla Saga Book 1:
Swords of Good Men , Snorri Kristjansson's debut novel, incorporates the myths that fascinated him as a child with his passion for epic fantasy.
To weary Viking Ulfar Thormodsson, the town of Stenvik is the penultimate stop on the return leg of a long and perilous journey. It has been particularly challenging for Thormodsson, who has been charged with protecting the life of his high-born cousin. Having traveled the oceans of the world for two years, all he wants is to go home. But Stenvik awaits.
The small coastal town is home to a colorful array of individuals, from the beautiful and tragic Lilia, who captures Thormodsson's rough heart, to solitary blacksmith Audun Arngrimsson, whose past hides many dark secrets. The travel-worn Vikings also discover that King Olav is marching on Stenvik from the east, determined to bring the White Christ to the masses at the point of his sword-even as a host of bloodthirsty raiders led by a mysterious woman sails from the north.
Meanwhile, there is trouble brewing between two of the town's competing factions, a conflict that threatens to sweep all of them, natives and visitors alike, into the jaws of war. Thormodsson and his companions soon learn that in this conflict between the old gods and the new, there are enemies everywhere-outside the walls of Stenvik as well as within.
Available on Amazon.com: Swords of Good Men (The Valhalla Saga)
This book has the cover and the blurb that would lead anyone to think it's a piece of gorgeous looking viking age historical fiction. I'm going to spoil it all for you now by saying it is not - but then again, parts of it are.
It deals with one definite true viking historical figure, that of Olav Tryggvason, King of Norwary and a fierce converter of his people to the Christian faith. Once you start reading you will learn how the word 'fierce' is perhaps an understatement. But he's one third of the story.
The second third belongs to fictional viking noblemen, both sons of prominent Jarls elsewhere, and both travel together to a fictional trading town of Stenvik, somewhere on the scandinavian coast line. I admitt now the storytelling and mental building in the imagination of Stenvik makes it almost as real as Hedeby would have been in it's hay day during the viking period BUT Stenvik is not real. And therefore neither are the characters who inhabit it - with the many secrets, hidden agendas, complicated relationships etc.
But to be honest once you start relating with, connecting to and generally wanting more through curiousity and interest about these characters - like all good storytelling they become real enough to matter.
The final third of this epic story involves 6, I may have miscounted, but yes 6 apparently renowned and feared Viking raiders and their crew that amazingly make up an army of around the 1000 mark (give or take a few for counting from memory) oh yes and the amazing star that really stole the show for me is a mysterious woman/girl who does what Joan of Arc did with the French - lead the Viking pagan raiders into battle. It is her character in particular that adds the fantasy element to this otherwise fictional historical fiction tale due to her powers of prophecy etc.
And these 3 sections of key characters with all their goals and struggles descend upon the fictional town of Stenvik to create one hell of a bloody, gorey, death filled, never ending battle effectively boiling down to Norse Gods vs Christ. I know one thing, if I was left to manage the town after the all-you-can-eat feast for the ravens I would just say BURN IT because the amount of blood spileld would stain the earth for decades.
However given this unusual norse fantasy tale in disguise as historical fiction complexity, it is a very good read. Plenty of drama, tension, the reader gets given a lot of secrets which in some cases you have to hold your tongue to prevent yourself shouting at the pages 'no don't go in the dark room...' or even 'OMG' for when there is a twist within the plot. Which brings me to the genuine surprise which is the ending. It is not what any reader I think will see coming and will leave you wondering a lot about what you have just experienced within those last chapters. To put it in a nutshell - it is a dramatic telling of what the Norwegians experienced when their King Olav was travelling around saying 'abandon Odin and join Christ or else' with a few hundred warriors at his back.
Nowadays it's West vs East, Christians vs Muslims, Christ vs Allah. That conflict of people and faith happened to the Vikings on epic scale under King Olav and for a lot people giving up the Gods or not meant an end to the world they had all lived in for centuries. And it is almost in their honour for the many who died when fighting against such a tide of conversion that Snorri writes this tale.
So if you like historical fiction and don't mind a bit of 'stretching the truth' and if you LOVE your battles and blood then yeh, give this book a go. May the ending surprise you as much as it did me.
Valhalla Saga Book 2:
Ulfar Thormodsson and Audun Arngrimsson are battered, having barely survived the battle for Stenvik, waged between King Olav and the followers of the White Christ, and those whose allegiance remains to the gods of the Norse pantheon. Alas, the two Vikings' encounter with a mysterious witch just before escaping the town over the city's walls have left them without the one thing that made them human: their mortality.
Available on Amazon.com: Blood Will Follow
Although I felt a bit lost to begin with having returned to this story a good while since reading the first book I did reconnect with the trio of main characters quickly. They each got their own journey full of adventure, magic and bloodshed and like the triple knot Valknut Snorri weaves their three storylines cleverly throughout the book and tying it all fluidly and smoothly together at the end in quite a dramatic and tense clash. I was particularly impressed with how well and almost naturally Snorri introduced two of the old god characters into the story, often without naming them directly but reflecting and honouring traits, omens and symbols that make each unique and individual.
Snorri's writing is quite steady in terms of pace and he shows great skill and talent in creating drama without relying on the a-typical fight scenes. Some of my favourites scenes have simply involved evocative and simple descriptions, scenery, dialogue and characters body language.
Will definitely be ordering the final book in this really enjoyable saga.
Valhalla Saga Book 3
In this raucous fantasy epic set at during the era when the Vikings fearlessly sailed the world's seas, mead flowed freely, and Gods walked the earth, companions Audun Arngrimsson and Ulfar Thormodsson are reunited after separate journeys of self-discovery.
In Trondheim, King Olav, self-appointed champion of the White Christ, grows restless in the wake of a significant victory and finds his faith tested further as he struggles to maintain the peace. With his garrison decimated and his forces surrounded by deceitful, grasping local chieftains, the King contemplates how best and where to spread the word of his God.
Available on Amazon.com here: Path of Gods
Absolutely bloody brilliant! Great characters, superb action, amazing battles and sparkling dialogue. Combined with a cleverly and well crafted plot that is full of surprises and a good dash of humour. A fine and fitting end for all involved, some remarkable plot twists that neatly bring the characters and storyline full circle with great storytelling. This final book was packed full of Norse mythical references and I was especially impressed with the introduction of a horror element to the magic used. It didn't revert to stereotype and still maintained a strong Nordic influence and style to its approach and indeed how the heroes and companions fought against this new and increasing threat.
Overall this trilogy is a masterful retelling of the raise of King Olaf and his blood-coated mission to make the Danes Christian and Snorri has cleverly captured the religious conflict of the time and presented it in a manner that really does remind the reader why the Vikings held firm to their belief in the Aesir and the Old Ways for no great heroes have ever truly emerged from Christian trials and adventures, only in the ways of the North are true heroes forged, their tales becoming legend.
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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