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on 9 September 2012
As per previous reviews, this third installment follows the previous two in being rather short; two hundred and something pages on the Kindle. Nonetheless, the story of Halfdan continues to trot along at a decent pace, and certain threads begin to tie up.
I do, however, have a number of gripes with this series. Fundamentally it is very like Cornwell's Thomas Hookton trilogy, rather too much in fact. I won't throw in any spoilers here, but if you've read the Cornwell work you'll see the similarity. This isn't an accusation of plagiarism - far from it - but it does mean you'll draw a comparison with Cornwell's works.
Where Roberts' story-telling begins to falter in comparison is twofold; Firstly, despite the obvious knowledge of the period, the language used in discourse between the protagonists can be jarringly modern. Whilst I don't expect the story to be told in old Danish, the appearance of the word 'Rendezvous' between two hairy Danish Jarls is very strange. It is notable in appearance because most other historic novelists avoid these like the plague.
Secondly, although the tale seems to be a novel retelling of a Norse saga, it frequently crosses the border from fantastic into silly. Through book two and into this one, Halfdan basically morphs into a Viking Rambo. Indeed, the whole transition from Thrall to stone cold killing machine is rather swift. Where Cornwell's usual heroes (Uhtred, Derfel, etc) have an extended period of learning their trade, Rambodan is fighting like a god after a few short months. Although this in itself it not implausible, the muscle development required to shot a longbow repeatedly in combat takes more than a few months to develop, similarly with spear and shield.
This, combined with the relative pence-per-page, detracts from the overall enjoyment of the series. I hadn't realised these books were print-edition as well until now (I wonder if these are aimed at the teenage boy market?), but if down in the 99p for Kindle category I'd rate them higher.
Having spent what amounts to a tenner on 700 Kindle pages, I've come away disappointed. First book started slowly, the second was the best of the lot, and third went rather silly. Have to say I only really got this far because I'd invested time in the first two.
Overall, I'm not terribly enthused to find out what happens to Halfdan. Given the previous installments I don't doubt he'll continue his one-man war machine path to justice over the bad guy, get the girl, and no doubt win great renown/land/whatever. The apparent historic accuracy doesn't do enough to pull it back.
Oh, and despite the knowledge of the period, there's some really odd stuff going on; the Danish and Franks campaign for months at a time without Dysentery ever rearing it's head (a problem which has haunted armies on campaign from the dawn of time right up to the mid 20th century), and a pitched battle with 10,000 horsemen on one side alone in 845AD is, usually regarded as highly improbable - given the population of the period - by historians; Hastings, Agincourt, and Crecy, for example, were much smaller.