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A millennium's meanderings,
This review is from: Viking : Odinn's Child (Viking 1) (Hardcover)
There are many novels portraying the Norse seafarers. They make fascinating characters, leading the adventurous lives we dreamt of in childhood. A glance at any history of Medieval Europe shows the extent of their conquests - down the major rivers of Russia to link with their cousins in the Mediterranean. Their impact on history has been muted or misinterpreted often, usually due to their attacks on Christian establishments and their vacillating attachment to "The Faith". Their seafaring and conquering talents have not faded, however. They are the stuff of legend, even when the forays failed.
In this first volume of a Norse trilogy, Severin tries to cover some of the "millennium" events the Norse undertook. Greenland, an exile's enclave is one of many homes of Thorgils, bastard son of Leif Ericsson. It hasn't been settled long, and opportunities abound for the adventurous. His mother, a powerful woman of Irish descent, leaves her son some inexplicable powers. The mix of Celt and Norse was too tempting for Severin to skip, and it provides his character with a multitude of story events to encounter. It also prompts Thorgils to extensive travels. One of those jaunts takes him where few Norse-inspired novelists dare to venture - Canada's Atlantic Provinces. "Vinland", long a place of mystery to European chroniclers, has been revealed as truly a Norse settlement site. Severin takes advantage of this with a fighting tour of the region. Thorgils witnesses these events up close, but not as closely as will later clashes.
After some interludes, Thorgils embarks on his own quest - find his roots. He wants to learn of his mother and his other family. In Medieval Ireland, that's not only difficult, it may prove sadly unrewarding. Thorgils endures the usual vicissitudes of a young man without a protector in those turbulent times. Warfare, wanderings, captures and escapes. He falls in adolescent love [he reaches nineteen years in this volume - which is why there'll have to be two more], but life is full of various disappointments. Love must wait at least until volume two. There are mysteries to encounter and resolve, enigmatic people to deal with and a great question that must someday be confronted. What to do about the Christians?
While Thorgils must confront or deal with many people in his young life, the background antagonist to the young Norseman is the White Christ. In the first millennium year, the dominance of Norse society by Christianity was far from a given. Odinn had set an example for young men such as Thorgils. Odinn, crucified on a tree, suffered unendurable agonies for the reward of wisdom. Wisdom, as any fantasy reader will assure you, is far more desirable than material or martial power. Thorgils begins to understand this as he moves between events. Power is transitory, but wisdom persists. And the wisdom of the Old Ways retains great appeal to certain members of Norse society. Will Thorgils join that company?
Severin's offering to this rising genre regrettably doesn't add much that's novel. His characters are already drawn from formula. Since the tale is told from Thorgils' viewpoint, we don't learn why a people who had been surrounded by powerful deities should have turned to one so alien to their traditions - although this is central to the plot. It's clear that one powerful chieftain, converted to the White Christ, could force dependents along the same path. Blind adherence to authority wasn't a Norse trait. There were rebellions that Severin, at least in this volume, coolly overlooks. He grants Thorgils a human identity, perhaps even a valid Norse one. So many events in this book, however, are so glaringly predictable, it becomes a page-turner just to get past them unscorched. A readable book of promising adventure, but not something leaving me panting in anticipation for the next volume. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]