December 15, 2006

The Way of the Warrior

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction,

Halfdan is the son of a thrall and a 9th century Danish clan chieftan, Hrorick, and believes that nothing exists in his life but the drudgery of work. Impatient with his mother, Derdrui's, tales and deaf to the world of women in general, Halfdan never really listens to his mother's tales of being a princess of Ireland, her stories of the White Christ, and all that she lost when she became as she was. Only when she is gone does Halfdan realize that he might have learned more if his heart had not been so intent on the lives of the warriors around him, and on the quest for Vallhalla. But how else could his life have gone?

The Viking world is a man's world, and Halfdan longs to be the kind of man his half-brother, Harald is, the kind of Viking Warrior thralls and soldiers alike look up to. Through a twist of fate that brings Halfdan his freedom, he has the chance to enter that hard, man's world where thralls don't speak unless spoken to, and where mead flows and big talk is all part of the rough cameraderie of warriors. Halfdan has a family when he's never truly been part of one before. But the web of fate is still being spun. Halfdan's life is going to change again -- and this time, it's up to him to decide what he has left.

This is a work of historical fiction wide in scope and mesmerizing. The harsh, bloody life of the Vikings is told with an eye to detail about the weapons and foods of the people, and their practices, and with a realism that can make the reader flinch, but the world is depicted in its reality. Because this is only Book 1 of the Strongbow Saga, it is somewhat frustrating to have met so few characters and have spent so little time with the characters, but this in time will turn out to be a praiseworthy saga which shows evidence of a love of the subject and meticulous research.


Anonymous said...

Spoiler for ya: Halfdan was killed by the English at some point, after he'd taken over quite a bit of English territory. Where the author will take that is unknown, but, like so many other historically-based novels, I'm sure that it's beside the point.

What bothers me about this type of work is that it attempts to frame the characters in such a way as to allow the reader to actually "play along" with the character, when, in fact, I'm almost certain that the culture was quite alien to ours in so many ways as to defeat understanding except on an intellectual level.

For example, when's the last time you paid somebody's family for having killed someone? Not common for ya, eh? But, if it was an unfair killing, the family could take it to the AllThing and have someone rule on it ... and get some money out of the deal. AND be expected to just let it go, not to get after revenge because they'd been compensated for their loss.

Maybe not a great example, but it's one of the myriad ways in which the culture is different from ours, and a good example of a mentality which is quite difficult to mimic in the course of reading. And that's my point: if we can't really understand the mentality, the work is either 1) an apology, 2) an adulteration, or 3) a glorification of the time.

Do you feel that you know the vikings when you're done, or do you simply feel like you've had a nice, violent fantasy?

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall the name Halfdan, true.

To be honest, I don't always care for historical fiction for the selfsame reason you state; that it's so far outside of my experience that I don't really "get" it, and it's really, really violent. Halfdan's mother is sacrificed to go on Hrorick's death ship - she is buried with him because she is his favorite thrall. There's a great love story hinted at in this, but the character of Halfdan doesn't even go for it, which is good.

I don't know. I am not as great a student of Viking history as I should be, so I don't see myself seeking out the sequels. This is not to say that this isn't good, solid writing and perhaps an exciting and action-packed piece that some young adults might appreciate. This is definitely not to everyone's tastes!