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This historical mystery is set in 1018 and features Winston, a respected Saxon illuminator, and Halfdan, a half Danish and half Saxon former nobleman, who lost his father’s estate in the recent upheavals which have left Cnut as King of England – although that fact is not undisputed. Winston and Halfdan meet up on the road - Winston is headed for Oxford, where the first wife of Cnut has requested his services. However, when they arrive they happen to present when a Saxon nobleman, who has recently had an altercation with Cnut, is murdered. When Winston makes some observant comments about the crime, Cnut enlists his help to discover the murderer. For Cnut is in Oxford for a reason - he is waiting to be paid the huge amount of heregald, before he agrees to meet the Wtenageniot and the Thing. With Saxon, Jutes, Angles, Danes and Vikings assembled for the Witenageniot and the murdered Saxon thanes widow accusing him of murder, Cnut reasons that asking for help from one Saxon and one Dane will mean that he is showing he wants the truth uncovered. For he is precariously ruling a divided land and he has to show that he is upholding the laws. Will Winston and Halfdan manage to discover the murder or will they be in danger of uncovering a more dangerous plot? Cnut is a man who can finally bring a measure of peace to a divided and fractious country and, although a Saxon, Winston is willing to help if he can.

This is an interesting mystery, which is –as other reviewers have pointed out – let down by a poor and unsympathetic translation. Words such as “dumb guy” and “scooted” do not belong in a novel set in 1018. I enjoyed the characters, but hope that the next instalment will have a more realistic feeling, especially in the dialogue between characters. Saying that, the author himself is not responsible for the translation and the actual pace of the mystery and characters of Winston and Halfdan are well written. I would give the next book a try, but seriously hope that a new translator is found and that modern, jarring words are left out of the text.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 1 August 2015
A number of other reviews have mentioned the disservice that the translation has done to this book first published in Danish. Essentially, the translator has chosen to insert numerous colloquial “Americanisms” with which a number of reviewers (not all English, by the way) have taken exception. This is indeed a problem, mostly (at least for me) because it is an anachronism. Neither I nor other reviewers expect the characters to speak on Old English, Danish or Norse, of course. However, mentions of a “worst case scenario” or of a “buddy”, just to mention these two (there are quite a few others as well) jars rather horribly and can somewhat spoil the story.

Fortunately, I found the plot and historical context rather excellent so that this remains a good and even a great read, despite the translation. The plot is set at a time when Knut has just vanquished the last Anglo-Saxon resistance of Edmund Ironside who has died shortly before. The Danish King being quite literally the “last man left standing”, seeks to have his conquest, his reign and his domination over the whole of England accepted by both his army and warlords and by the Anglo-Saxon nobility and his future subjects. For this, he needs to reward the former and ensure the security of the later while also ensuring the Church that he will rule justly and according to the law.

Unfortunately, a Saxon thegn has just been murdered at the gathering in Oxford called by Knut to achieve his reconciliation scheme. His widow accuses Knut of being behind the murder, which is possible since he previously had a number of his high profile opponents and rivals murdered quite openly. To save his reconciliation scheme, something that is, of course, in his own best interest, Knut appoints a Saxon cleric and illuminator and a half-Dane disposed nobleman to try to solve the case in a show of objectivity.

While the plot may not appear to be terribly original, the period chosen is, and the historical context and characters are presented in very plausible ways. This is particularly the case of Knut himself, but also of Archbishop Wulsfan and of the enigmatic but though Thorkell the Tall. Many of the fictional characters are also good, particularly the Chief of Knut’s huscarls.

The two other main strong points of the book are the historical context and the attitudes of the various characters, both of which ring true. The events and the inquiry take place at the (historical) gathering at Oxford under heavy tension between the victorious Danes and the various war bands of Vikings associated with them and the defeated Anglo-Saxons which, by then, had submitted to Knut but may still be unwilling to accept him as King and could be plotting his demise. An added “wrinkle” is that the huge tribute that England was to pay to the Scandinavian army and fleet – the price for sending most of it home and content – is to be mostly assembled in Oxford, a town that Knut and his father had pillaged less than a decade before.

The atmosphere of general suspicion and fear of the King is very well captured. So is Knut’s awareness that he needs to watch his back, starting with his closest and most powerful councillors. This is also historical since he would indeed drop out with one of them a few years later, one who was in fact too powerful to eliminate as others had been previously. Four stars, but this one could have been worth five had it not been for the translation glitches…
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on 6 February 2014
I'm a big fan of historical murder mysteries, and this looked promising. It's the first of this bestselling Danish author's books to be translated into English and, at the very least, it sounded like a welcome change from all the Tudor whodunnits I've read lately.
Set in Oxford, it's 1018, and King Cnut is trying to consolidate his power base in England after the battle of Assandun. A mismatched pair of drifters, a former monk and a penniless young nobleman, stumble across a murder, and the king gives them a deadline to catch the killer.
So, a good premise, and it starts well, but what a disappointment - and I'm not just talking about the translation which, as other critics have pointed out, is shockingly bad, and full of jarring, anachronistic americanisms. I can't say how it reads in the original Danish, but I'm really surprised that no-one, during the process of translation and publication, piped up to say how out of place some of the dialogue sounds.
But I suspect that no translator could hide the fact that this turns out to be a murder mystery without focus or suspense. It's plodding and repetitive, with page after page of people just telling each other things in one alehouse after another, until it finally peters out with a very unsurprising revelation of whodunnit.
And despite all the details of what everyone wore and ate, and all the talk of Witanagemots, ealdormen and housecarls, the author fails to bring the 11th century to life. That's not helped by the all the americanisms, of course, but it just never seemed right.
Perhaps that's because none of the characters come alive either. Convincing characters and relationships can sometimes save a sagging plot, but Winston and Halfdan are a very dull pair of investigators, and Halfdan (who could have been an engaging rogue) is unpleasant, too, so it's very hard to care. Everyone else, including King Cnut, is just made of cardboard, and the depiction of women is particularly poor (and in places borderline offensive).
Just imagine what the late, lamented Ariana Franklin could have done with a premise like this.
This looks like the first of a series - the second has just been published, with the same translator, amazingly - but I won't be reading any more.
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on 30 December 2013
There are too many Americanism in the text. Such as , worst case scenario, you sure are fresh,entangled, darn well ,you talk big, listen up,gotten, buddy,guy,bugged, the Thames doesn't flow through Oxford the Isis does, empty lot . Are just some examples.
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on 26 November 2013
I liked the idea of reading an historic fiction story from this period. The opening chapters seemed quite interesting so I read on, but became progressively more disappointed as I did. The attention to narrative detail disappeared, the feeling of events taking place during the early medieval period was lost, apart from the glaringly obvious, the dialogue descended into openly modern Amricanisms ( the little guy, sure, etc) and the plot was very confused. I don't expect to guess the answer in a who dun it early on, but I like a sense of where we were headed, and this plot seemed too confused. I'm surprised the protagonists even reached a conclusion. There was too much repetition of particular phrases, too much clumsy and cliched sexual attitude on behalf of one of the protagonists. I ended up with sympathy for no-one and no particular interest in the story. Could not recommend to anyone. I' ve given two stars because of the beginning, but that's the only reason for more than 1 star.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 October 2016
From the recent novels I've read set during the Norman conquest, I've now moved back 50 years to an earlier invasion of England, that of the Danish King Canute, 1000 years ago this year. He defeated the English King, Edmund Ironside in 1016, and they made a deal to divide the country between them, with the survivor inheriting the whole kingdom. Ironside died later that year, though it isn't clear if it was murder or he died of his wounds at the decisive battle of Essandun. This novel is set a year or two later when Canute is trying to unite the fractured kingdom he has conquered. Against this tense background, a Saxon noble is murdered just before a crucial meeting of the Saxon Witenagemot and Danish Thing (a similar assembly of notable men) in Oxford. Step forward our two protagonists: Halfdan, whose father, a Saxon nobleman, died at Essandun and whose mother was Danish; and Winston, an ex-monk who is a skilled illustrator of manuscripts. The characters are good, well rounded and far from being Medieval stereotypes; most of the minor characters are also interesting and believable. This is the first of what appear to be a trilogy of novels, translated from the original Danish; my only criticism was that some of the translation jarred as it sounded a little too modern to me. A good read, and I already have the sequel on my Kindle (downloaded before I read this in some earlier sale).
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I quite enjoyed the initial history lesson surrounding the Vikings and how they invaded and gained control at a time of much aristocratic in-fighting and general violent uncertainty. There's a lot of subject matter there for an author to get their teeth in to and no end of ideas to develop.

To some extent Martin Jensen manages to inject an essence of the times into his novel and it begins well. That doesn't last. The plot loses it's way as the author falls into the trap of padding out his story with repetitive themes that become confused towards the end.

I don't necessarily think the historical characters are well fleshed out. I can't help but believe the life and times of 'Cnut the Great', King Canute, wasn't dealt it's fair share of shock and awe. Viking warriors swarming onto British shores, the Long Ships standing proudly in the distance while Ancient Nordic Gods thundered around above the battle scenes...now that's the book I expected. That's not the book I read.

I have to mention, I'm sorry I know many other already have, the American translation strips out a huge amount of realism from the characters. Britain shares a historical link with the Norse Men which includes the English language. A British translation would have been so much more sympathetic to the dialogue. Going the American route in this case hasn't worked too well.

I couldn't possibly leave less than 3* because there has been a lot of work gone into the research and at times it shows. Unfortunately; this novel is one more example of historical research being crammed into a weak story. Shame. I really wanted to enjoy this one.
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on 2 September 2015
I enjoyed the story and character development of this book. It is a time in history that I haven't heard too much about (not since I was 10 or 11 and my studies covered Ethelred the Unready) and this was entertaining subject matter. The plot was not too subtle but good enough. The major negative was the translation into American English, which others have mentioned and which was at times a bit distressing. It is possible it is not the translator and that it's a stylistic thing in the original language too I suppose. Nevertheless I'm Ok with the book. Not sure I'd pay full price for future books in the series in order to put up with the massacre of the English language but I may be addicted & want to see what comes next. I'd recommend this to others as an entertaining, mildly historically educational book that is an undemanding read. You can leave your brain idling neutral......
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on 12 January 2014
Having studied Anglo-Saxon history at school, I initially enjoyed the story and the history of Cnut taking control of England during a violent and uncertain time for the native aristocracy. As a calligraphy student, I also looked forward to some snippets about how the monks prepared their writing and illustrations. The story started well, and gave a flavour of the times as well as a sense of adventure. However, by the end of the book, it had become rather repetitive, with people coming in and out of various places and being watched and followed. There wasn't much character development, and the story of Cnut' wives vanished completely. I didn't completely understand the ending, but had given up a bit anyway.
The thing that did annoy me was the Americanised translation. British dialects still use Saxon and Viking expressions, so would have been a more natural choice. The use of Americanisms such as buddies, anyways and gotten had me transported across the Atlantic and jarred horribly, as did anachronisms such as "hidden in plain sight".
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on 15 February 2015
The King's Hounds is a good story that is let down by the translation and slightly loses it's way towards the end. The historical aspect of the book really appeals to me, and the period of British history of King Cnut is seldom written about in my experience. The story is fairly strong, being a whodunnit affair, and some of the characters are interesting. However the blatant americanisms sometimes broke my immersion in the story, and some of the characterisations such as one character's borderline creepy obsession with women can get slightly grating after a while. The story often repeats itself both in aspects of the plot and in the characterisations, but it is easy to gloss over these repetitions.

Anyone who enjoys historical fiction will probably enjoy this, and I intend to carry on reading the series, but it is marred by some 'technical' issues that prevent the story and characters from being as immersive as they could be. I hope to see these issues develop and resolve in the later instalments in the series as the premise has a lot of potential!
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