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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story telling style
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. The way the story is told, by alternating between the two Viking veterans, who have rarely been separated their whole lives, each remembering the events slightly different to the other, is brilliant, often funny and always entertaining.
Some of the scenes and action involving the native North Americans and between the...
Published on 28 Mar 2006 by Alan J. Hodgson

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Respectable Historical Fiction with a Humorous Touch
I bought this one eagerly because the subject matter was, in a sense, up my alley -- and I wanted to see how Thomas Holt handled it.

On balance he did a respectable job, constructing a novel which faithfully (allowing for inevitable variations in the sources) captures the basic details of a series of voyages to North America, undertaken in the early eleventh...
Published on 28 Mar 2011 by Stuart W. Mirsky


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story telling style, 28 Mar 2006
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This review is from: Meadowland (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. The way the story is told, by alternating between the two Viking veterans, who have rarely been separated their whole lives, each remembering the events slightly different to the other, is brilliant, often funny and always entertaining.
Some of the scenes and action involving the native North Americans and between the Greenlanders and Icelanders is remarkably similar (to the point where I often knew what was coming next) to Tim Severin's "Viking: Odinn's Child" which I read recently and also enjoyed.
Like the Byzantine civil servant accompanying the two old boys to Greece and listening to the story unfold, I was hooked from the beginning and couldn't wait for the next bit to unfold.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable, 25 Sep 2011
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This review is from: Meadowland (Paperback)
I think that I would rate this as my second best book of all time. He has taken a historical event or two or three , and filled in the gaps with his wonderful witty story telling and neat insights into everyday Scandinavian life as it was then - which is fascinating -well researched too. I have read this book three times now and it just keeps on getting better.This is like history without the dry dust and with humour and a fluid style that means its nigh on impossible to put the book down to sleep or eat !
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Respectable Historical Fiction with a Humorous Touch, 28 Mar 2011
This review is from: Meadowland (Paperback)
I bought this one eagerly because the subject matter was, in a sense, up my alley -- and I wanted to see how Thomas Holt handled it.

On balance he did a respectable job, constructing a novel which faithfully (allowing for inevitable variations in the sources) captures the basic details of a series of voyages to North America, undertaken in the early eleventh century by Norse colonists in Greenland. Holt's novel involves a cleverly designed set-up in which a Byzantine eunuch, serving as an Imperial bookkeeper, is conducted by a three-man detail of Varangian Guardsmen (Nordic warriors in the employ of the Byzantines) overland to deliver a payment to some mercenaries. Their cart loses an axel and they're forced to hole up in an abandoned tomb to await repairs. Two of the three guardsmen are old buddies with a tale to tell, a tale of voyages to an unknown land on the western edge of the ocean, while the third is a young Harald Sigurdsson who will one day rise to fame in the north, both for his exploits as a Varangian captain with the Byzantines and, later, as a Norse viking and king.

The tale of the oldsters relies on their recollections (sometimes faulty, often testily expressed) of the series of Norse voyages from Greenland to Vinland (somewhere on the North American coast) in which they participated. The conceit of the book is that Kari and Eyvind sailed on all the voyages recalled in the two extant sources, Eirik the Red's Saga and The Tale of the Greenlanders, and so are uniquely placed to give the fullest account of what actually occurred. The real record is terse and often cryptic in its reports and Holt aims to flesh it all out through the loquacious testimony of his two eyewitnesses.

The two oldtimers are cranky and, like an old married couple, spend a lot of time carping and sniping at one another, contradicting their partner's reminscences. Eyvind claims to dislike Kari and resent his always hanging around him, but never quite tells Kari that, while Kari claims to like Eyvind but really dismisses much of what he has to say. And yet the story they have to report is largely confirmed in their two accounts (they tell their story separately, each picking up where the other left off, during the course of a night's watch until near the end when both manage to collaborate in the telling for their Greek listener).

The tale mostly reflects the historical record we have though Holt manages to give us lots of detail concerning the everyday lives of these people, making them out to be a rather petty, small minded bunch of hicks actually, while painting reasonable pictures of the main personalities involved in the events and the reasons they did what they did. Bjarney Herjolfsson, we learn, is a down to earth business type with little interest in adventure (true to the terse saga account of him, by the way) while Leif the Lucky is anything but, spending his time in frustration and uncertainty as he tries to get out from under his father's shadow and ends up trapped within it at Brattahlid (Eirik's Greenland estate). Thorfinn Karlsefni (called "Bits" here by Eyvind) is a man whose capabilities don't match his vision (in Eyvind's opinion anyway, Kari has a different, perhaps more rose colored, view) and Fredyis Eiriksdaughter is a hard, manipulative, ruthless woman (again not far from the saga record).

Hampered by their flawed characters and the circumstances of the time, Holt's two storytellers reveal inadvertently (though sometimes the heavy hand of exposition creeps in) the reasons the Vinland voyages ultimately failed, leaving only a paltry record, and little physical remains of their occurrence, behind. The thread which binds the separate voyages is the ongoing friendship/dislike of Kari and Eyvind and their repeated attempts to avoid being drawn back to Vinland and, in Eyvind's case at least, the other's company. It makes for some clever running jokes to spice up the otherwise fairly straightforward account but, finally, it's not enough to bind these events together in a unified narrative that holds the interest all the way through. I got bogged down about halfway and set the book aside with little impetus to go back until I ran out of other things to read.

The Vinland voyages, why they occurred and why they finally failed, are fascinating grist for the author's mill but this story, perhaps because it hews too closely to fictionalizing the actual record, voyage by voyage, suffers from a lack of narrative power which I believe fiction requires. Even the story frame of two feuding Varangian oldtimers, bound to each other by events and circumstance and yet mired in misunderstandings, isn't enough to fully offset the weakness of the main thread. Holt does do some nice work with the narrative, though, as driven by his ongoing dry wit, tongue always firmly in cheek, and he gives us a nice view of the Byzantine culture in which the narrative takes place as a proxy for our modern world. And he's clever at the end when he tilts us back to Harald who played a major part in English history, allowing the Greek accountant to help the soon-to-be Norse king choose his ultimate objective and thereby giving our eunuch a rather special role in English and, ultimately, world history. But even that seems a bit forced because it's pretty clear that conditions in the eleventh century were insufficient for real colonization of the Americas, whatever a Byzantine court official and a future viking king had in mind.

In sum this one started with a clever idea but the narrative doesn't quite meet its promise, getting bogged down in the repetiveness of these events and heavy reliance on the running joke of two old Norse codgers who can't quite get along but can't do any better alone, either. Too often I found myself unable to distinguish between the two personalities driving the narrative, and lost track of who was telling us what. And too often, too, I found myself getting their accounts confused with the Greek clerk's own words. There's a certain cynical world weariness in the humor and a lot of repetitive philosophical musing that tends to slow the narrative down. Perhaps, too, the dynamics of the Kari-Eyvind relationship were just not enough to overcome the lack of dramatic tension that occurs when you already know how things turn out which, certainly, was the case here where the upshot of the Vinland voyages, and the future King Harald's choices, are widely known to readers to begin with.

Stuart W. Mirsky
author of The King of Vinland's Saga
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5.0 out of 5 stars A***, 14 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Meadowland (Paperback)
This book is a brilliant read. It is well worth the money. Such a shame that it is only available in paperback.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for Tom Holt fans., 22 Oct 2013
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Sonia (RYE, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Meadowland (Hardcover)
If you started with The Portable door and such you may not realise that Mr Holt, an historian by training has a back catalogue.
Meadowland an ingenious romp through the Viking saga of conquest has its feet set firmly on historical possibility. How did two gents from a comfortable longhouse come to be amongst the discoverers of America? Although infused with wit this novel paints a remarkable picture of what those early voyages were like and the conditions endured.
Don't miss it.
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Meadowland
Meadowland by Thomas C. Holt (Paperback - 3 Mar 2005)
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