Top critical review
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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.