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on 1 September 2013
I've given this first effort by Mr Kristjansson three stars because I'm just not sure; it is enjoyable and parts are well written, but there are still a few fairly annoying flaws. I must agree with much of what other reviewers have said so you won't find any mind blowing revelations here I'm afraid.

The story is a bit slow to get going but it's, really, just one story of a siege and the build up to it. The ending is contrived to provide a vehicle for the next book in this series, starring the two main characters and SK comprehensively clears the decks of any future complications through the expedient of killing off just about everyone else! There is a mystical element to the story and, although I don't much like that sort of thing in my 'Viking' books, it isn't too obtrusive here. There is a lot action flowing through and around the town of Stenvik and a plan of the town and its environs would have been useful.

The good stuff; Well, the evocation of Nordic lands a thousand years ago is quite compelling and I really felt as though I was there. The pace of the action, once you are more than half way through, picks up nicely and holds the attention well. Several of the characters are well drawn and interesting in their own right.

The more troubling stuff: By far my biggest grumble is with the style of having 'chapter' headings of place names and then having a new 'chapter' every time the story perspective changes from one character to another. This means that there are many 'chapters' that are less than half a page long. This constant and staccato switching between places and characters gets very confusing, made worse by the similarity in some of the Nordic character names. The fact that some characters switch their loyalties from besieger to besieged and some of the besiegers spend time inside the besieged town, just adds to the confusion. Please Mr Kristjansson, listen to me and countless other reviewers and write the next in this series but not in this style.

I did have other, lesser, issues. The love story is poorly drafted and seems to only be there as a formulaic "every Viking story has to have a love interest". There are three female characters; two 'villains' and a 'damsel in distress', and it seems strange that none of the many main male characters have a wife.Similarly, one or two of the characters seem to have been penned and then SK couldn't find a use for them in the story so they just hang about until being despatched. Without giving the game away, one of the two 'visitors' has a pointless and useless thread for 75% of the book before just fading away (and I'm still not sure why). Also, there are some glaring modern idioms used in the speech of the characters. I'm not a fan of fake 10th century English but some of these characters seem to have been watching American TV.

So, having listed far more negatives than positives, you may wonder why I have given three stars. It's because, despite the flaws, I still enjoyed this book. It isn't fantastic but it isn't rubbish either and it certainly entertained me for a few hours. Furthermore, I'm aware that this is Mr Kristjansson's first ever effort and, if he's as smart as his writing suggests, he'll listen to these reviews and change his style a bit. If he does, then the next in this series could be seriously good and I, for one, will be happy to buy the next book to see.
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on 20 April 2017
I read this because its author's agent was one I had submitted a manuscript to.

The pacing is excellent. The writing is clear and unobtrusive. There is no doubt from early on where the story is going, and it goes there at a good pace, without trying to be too clever on the way: there is a logic to the story, and that logic is respected throughout. It builds tension steadily towards the inevitable battle, as all the pieces fall into place. The battle itself is well described and credible.

A few weak points. I felt let down by the plot turns in the final few pages. I was confused by the geography as I could not figure out where on the coast of Sweden or Norway the action was taking place. The magical elements of the story lacked credibility in the middle of the overall realism of the rest of the story. More seriously, there were too many characters and the switches between locations were too frequent, causing confusion for the reader. Characters were built up and some were then summarily dispatched in a way that lessened the coherence of the narrative.

Nonetheless, this was a ripping yarn, a good read that kept me coming back to find out what was going to happen. Well worth reading.
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on 27 February 2014
I can tell when a book has been good is the speed I read it. This took me less than four days, considering I work from 8.30 till 6.00pm everyday, this is no mean feat. I thought the build up and the siege in the story was fantastic, the characters gripped me. The besiegers and besieged I wasn't sure who I wanted to win before the big battle. I will not give any spoilers here but if you like authors like Joe Abercrombie, or Viking stories like the Oathsworn series by Robert Low you will really enjoy this book. Cant wait to read Blood will Follow.
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on 4 September 2013
I was lucky enough to win an ARC of this one via Twitter, and was so looking forward to reading it. It looks and smells exactly like my cup of tea. Maybe that was a bad thing, because it always seems that when I'm absolutely dying to get my paws on something there's a somehow inevitable sense of disappointment when I actually dig in.

Swords of Good Men is one of the most disjointed, interrupted novels I've ever read. Within each chapter the action jumps from place to place several times, and in some cases each of these sections is just a paragraph long. I actually really enjoyed the action and the characters that were described in each location, but found it hugely frustrating to have to keep switching between them so fast. I found myself losing track of names and threads in the process. You could, of course, argue that this is simply because I'm a bear of very little brain, but it just isn't a style that suits me well at all. Imagine trying to watching three really good films at once, channel hopping between them, that's what the majority of this novel felt like to me. The content is fantastic, but the style nearly killed me. Are attention spans really so short now? Or is this some new literary trait that I'm just completely unaware of? If this hadn't been a review copy, I would have been unlikely to have finished it, and that would have been a real shame because the absolute best of this one comes right at the end.

Style aside, Kristjansson's characterisation is outstanding. Many times through this one I was reminded of Gemmell, who will always be the master in my eyes when it comes to writing fantasy characters you can genuinely care about. If you like Gemmell, I suspect you'll also like Kristjansson. Sigurd is the epitome of a strong leader, and Valgard the healer is completely intriguing. It takes a good 160 pages until you find out just what he's all about. Thora is unforgettable and a great deal of fun. I see her in my head as a sort of female Brian Blessed with tourettes;

"Put some cock into it, you lazy mongrel shit-witted bastard whoresons!"

Audun is absolutely classic, and Harald is beautifully evil, if perhaps a little predictable.

There's a nice mix of town politics with wider issues, and Kristjansson connects the two well. My favourite aspect of the novel was the conflict between the Old Gods and The White Christ, that's an area that always fascinates me, and I'd recommend the novel purely on that point alone. I love to see how different authors deal with the same themes, and this is definitely one of the better explorations of the topic I've seen. As ever it's hard to do this without spoilers, but there's an image of King Olav in my head, up on the roof, desecrating some religious statues in a way that I won't forget anytime soon.

One aspect that I wasn't at all sold on was Ulfer's 'romance'. I didn't find his sudden attraction and subsequent character change convincing, and am curious to see what others make of it. It may just be that I have a heart of stone!

The raid towards the end of the novel is where everything starts to come together, and this jumped from a two to a four star read in the space of about fifty pages for me. The battle scenes are beautifully written, and the bag of tricks employed by the defenders is no end of fun. The last section of the novel attains a pace and consistency that I found missing previously, and it completely redeemed itself in my eyes. Everything is beautifully set up for the next book, which I will now be eagerly awaiting.

Kristjansson does an awful lot right in Swords of Good Men. He's not scared of a body count, and he's not afraid of a good old fashioned cliffhanger. His characterisation and world-building are hard to fault, and the clash of Gods within the novel is captivating. For me, the structure was the most questionable and damaging element. I would have much preferred to stay for longer spells with certain characters rather than the incessant jumping around that pervades the novel. But, that's just personal preference. Either way I was won over in the end.
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There is a 2009 film called Vahalla Rising by Nicholas Winding Refn that stars the uber-talented Mads Mikkelsen. It follows the journeys of a Viking and explores the stark, often brutal, time which he lived. Swords of Good Men, the latest publication from Jo Fletcher Books, covers similar thematic territory but goes that little bit further. Imagine a novel that offers insight into the nature of a proud warrior culture and how tribes managed on a day-to-day basis.

The remote settlement of Stenvik is a hard place to survive, in fact, it's positively Darwinian. The strong prosper and the weak suffer the consequences. Beset on all sides by forces that want to take control, the village chieftain also has to contend with internal power struggles. As events swiftly begin to spiral out of control, conflict is inevitable.

The writing on display has an evocative air. Be warned though, things get pretty damn graphic as the plot moves forward. There is a wonderfully savage chaos in the action scenes. Unsurprisingly, when violence does erupt, it is often swift and brutal. I know that war is a terrible thing, but I think the writing tapped directly into that primal bloodlust that resides somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain. There was part of me cheering when the Viking berserkers, The Twenty, arrived. When it comes to the battles, there is something wonderfully uncomplicated about it all. There is no thought required only action, the rules are staggeringly simple: kill or be killed.

As an effective counterpoint to all the mayhem of the battlefield, it was a nice surprise to discover that the novel also contains a plethora of more introspective moments. When characters are not engaged in trying to chop bits off of one another they ponder their existence. How do they fit into the grand scheme of things? What is it that makes someone good or bad? Audun Arngrimsson, the blacksmith, is a good example of this duality. He is a hard-working, practical man. Initially, he appears content just to mind his own business, keep to himself and avoid any undue attention. When pushed to extremes however, the other side of his nature is revealed. The internal conflict that exists within Audun perfectly illustrates the internal conflict that exists within all warriors, longing for peace but relishing the unrestrained madness that comes only during war.

The other character I really enjoyed was the Viking captain, Eigill Jotunn. Anyone who knows a little Norse mythology will not be shocked to discover he is described as a huge, mountain of a man. The vicious meeting between Audun and Egill was the chaotic highlight of the novel for me.

The arrival of the White Christ, and Christianity, also plays an important part in the narrative. Many generations of tradition and the Old Gods have suddenly been set aside for a new religion. Entire communities have been forced to change their beliefs or face the consequences. When these differing theologies come crashing together like this, the results are as you would expect, bloody.

The fantasy elements are handled very delicately. It's only really in the final few chapters where these move to the fore. Kristjansson offers a suggestion of the fantastical at certain points throughout the narrative, but leaves these open to interpretation. I can imagine that this is going to prompt some vigorous reader debate. Some will undoubtedly relish the ambiguity in the writing, while others will probably loathe it. Personally, I rather enjoyed this subtle approach.

I've been very lucky with my reading so far in 2013. Once again, I find myself in the situation where another debut novel has blown me away. The writing is so self-assured. I was gripped from beginning to end, it feels like Kristjansson has been producing books like this for years. I'm a little bit in awe, but rest assured I'll be keeping an eye out for this author's next novel.
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I love a story that takes me into the past and gives me characters that I want to not only spend time around but also gives me a story of possibilities where anything can and occasionally does happen. Here in this debut by Snorri is a tale worthy of the saga poets as the action is hard and bloodthirsty yet there are also tender moments within which give the reader chance to get their breath back. All round a great debut and one that if book two continues to build upon, will bring the author a lot of fans. Great stuff.
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on 22 August 2013
I love a good Viking tale, though I've read far fewer than I would like, so when I saw the announcement of Jo Fletcher's signing of Snorri Kristjansson for a Viking novel, the first in a trilogy, called Swords of Good Men, I was immediately on board. And the book had everything you might expect from a Viking novel. Vikings! Battle! Blood! Berserkers! But it had more, it also had political machinations, a love story, and the struggle of a world torn between the old gods and the new.

Settling into the narration was a little harder than usual as Kristjansson switches point of view quite quickly within his chapters and while the number of viewpoints are limited, it made for a bit of a choppy rhythm that I had to get used to. What I absolutely adored is that Kristjansson uses the rhythm of Old English - and I'd assume Old Scandinavian - poetry, such as the Beowulf, in his writing, sometimes in the form of traditional poems and songs, sometimes just incorporated in the running text. I really got a kick out of it and it also fit with the fast viewpoint switches. Once I got used to the lightning fast switches in the story, they actually served to enhance the pacing of the story and Kristjansson ensures the reader is never lost as every new passage has a heading stating its location.

The story is divided into three factions: the Northern raiders, the approaching army of the Christian King Olav, and the people of Stenvik, all of whom have several viewpoint characters. Each faction has heroes and villains and while the people of Stenvik are clearly the home team the reader is supposed to root for, Kristjansson leaves it rather up in the air which of the approaching invaders is the lesser of the two evils. To be sure, personally, I rather liked the Northern raiders, especially Skargrim and Thora, his second-in-command, but the ultimate power behind their actions is obscured and seems somewhat sinister in nature, seeing as its representative to the Northern tribes, Skuld, is a witch with some really evil magic. The motives driving King Olav and his soldiers are far clearer, but at the same time they are far less sympathetic as Olav is clearly a religious fanatic not just surrounded by people who sincerely share his faith, but also by those trying to profit from his conquering ways, even if they still believe in the old gods.

The main characters in the book are Ulfar and Audun. Ulfar's development over the course of the book is profound. He gains some much needed life experience and is revealed to be a cunning, clever, and creative strategist and warrior in battle. At the same time he learns what it is to fear for the lives of people you love and to actually lose them. Audun is rather mysterious and while some of his history and nature is revealed during the siege on Stenvik, there are many questions still unanswered. As mentioned previously, I really liked Skargrim and Thora, mainly because they have a delightful dynamic and their banter often made me chuckle out loud. The comfortable back and forth between long-time companions is something that Kristjansson shows to good effect not just in their exchanges, but in those of Ulfar and his cousin Geiri and Stenvik's chieftain Sigurd and his councillor Sven as well. While there aren't many important female characters, only four named ones that I can think of, they stand out and Kristjansson's portrayal of Lillia and her attempts to break out of her abusive marriage and return to herself emotionally were beautifully done. One character that has to be mentioned is Valgard. He's a fascinating character and the reader is kept on her toes in his depiction; his was the character I despaired most of, as I couldn't pin him down. He's a healer - generally characters that are portrayed as good, even if not always as kind - but he's so conflicted and broken, that I kept going back and forth in my sympathies for him until he finally clinched my judgement in the last part of the book.

One thing Kristjansson succeeded very well at with Swords of Good Men is eliciting strong reactions. The appearance of the berserkers had me go oooooohhh, like one of those little Martians from Toy Story. He also had me exclaiming in protest at some of the twists in the book and there were tears, I won't deny it. At one point I even took to Twitter to tell Kristjansson that he was an evil, evil man (he's not, really.) Swords of Good Men is a fabulous debut and a gripping read, which I enjoyed so much I found myself putting off reading the final pages because I didn't want it to end. More please!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 February 2014
As many others, I have read a number of “Viking Stories” written by quite a few authors: the “genre” is getting somewhat crowded. I liked most of them, although some were arguably better than others. I was a bit concerned that this one would be in the same vein as most of the others, and therefore hardly original. This is why I somewhat hesitated before buying and reading it.

It seems I was largely wrong. The action takes place in Norway, in and around the fortified town of Stenvik, held by Sigurd, an ageing warlord, as two Viking armies close on it, each intending to secure it for its own. After two years travelling as envoys across Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea, the young and handsome Ulfar (our hero) and his cousin had ended up in this town, the last before they return home. It will, of course, not be so easy, and our hero will get fully caught up in the coming battle, with lots of blood, gore and fighting. So far, so good and there is nothing really exceptional here. Similar episodes of ferocious and grim fighting can be found in other books from other authors, even if the ones in this book are rather well done and essentially take the form of siege with numerous assaults against Stenvik.

However, Snorri Kristjansson’s book does stand out in three respects. The first one is the historical context. It is about the forced unification of much of Norway under the cold, ruthless and fanatical Olaf Tryggvasson and his “White Christ” which took place in the last years of the 10th century. The young King, who appears quite frightening by his very calm, is depicted in a rather convincing way. His “Christianity” is a Norse and rather ruthless and bloodthirsty version of it. Pitted against him is a host made up of five warlords brought together by a witch and fighting for the old Gods. Sigurd, his warriors, Ulfar and the population of Stenvik are caught in the middle and fighting for their survival.

I have already alluded to the second strong point of this book: the characterisation. The leaders are all fierce, cunning and ruthless but then you would expect no less since they are the survivors of countless fights and expeditions and have become leaders precisely because they are outstanding warriors. Most of them, Skargrim, Sigurd and Sven in particular, are rather well described and may appear believable. So do the old scouts on both sides. I did not entirely “buy” the actions of our young Ulfar who, although relatively inexperienced, becomes a hero. However, he and other characters are all depicted with their qualities and their flaws and since this is a grim “Viking story”, happy endings are not to be expected.

However, the main originality and the main asset of this book is its atmosphere. This is a story about the “New God” of King Olaf fighting against the Old Gods and their magic. It is also a story of reckless courage, on both sides. Finally, it is a rather superb story about Scandinavian warfare, with the “up close and personal style” that you can expect and with quite a few terrifying and relentless berserkers. One of these is somewhat unexpected, tries to fight his affliction and is probably the most sympathetic character in the whole book.

Four strong stars for this first novel, which I highly recommend. It is the first of a trilogy and I will certainly read the next one as soon as it comes out.
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on 24 August 2013
Great to read novels from foreign writers albeit he lives in London. Early Swedish/Norwegian/Danish history is very scant and Kristjansson has brought this era well into the limelight with the advance of Christianity into the ice lands. I have high hopes of his follow-up Valhalla Sagas.
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on 2 September 2013
This is the best fantasy book I've read in ages. It sits in that place between fantasy and historical fiction we've learned to love in Game of Thrones. Gripping action, characters that you develop real affection for and then spend much of the second half of the book fearing for when the swords really come out.
Swords of Good Men, has a slightly cinematic style. Scenes vary in length in a way that generates a rhythm that carries you through the book at break neck speed.
If you're a fan of Martin or Gemmell, this book will hit the spot. Engaging, surprising and in places, brilliantly written. If this is a debut novel, I look forward to the next one!
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