The Viking: My Review

The Viking Book CoverThe Viking by Marti Talbot is certainly not what the reader might expect. As a fan of the History Channel television series The Vikings, and the BBC production The Last Kingdom (based on the Bernard Cornwell books), I was looking forward to a saga focused on the Danish conquest of England. I definitely did not anticipate a love story.

The book begins with that promise. Stefan, a young Viking, is looking forward to his first raid alongside his father, Donar. But the foray into Scotland goes terribly wrong resulting in the death of his father, the retreat of the Viking fleet, and young Stefan stranded on Scottish soil.

Able to speak the language because his mother had been a Scot captured on a previous Viking raid, he finds refuge with a woman, Jirvel, and her daughter, Kannak, who are in desperate need of someone to till the land and help them survive. Jirvel’s husband has abandoned them to their fate, but the three bond out of necessity and form a family unit of sorts.

From there the story definitely shifts to the budding romance between Stefan and Kannak. As they grow and mature their filial relationship changes and the two eventually fall in love. However, just as the two realize their true feelings for one another, Stefan is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Stefan never gives up hope of freedom and returning to Kannak, and despite pressure to marry another, she holds onto her dream of a reunion.

In addition to this story of young love, Marti Talbot also writes of Jirvel’s yearning for Laird Macoran who is Kannak’s real father. Many years before, on the eve of their betrothal, war with the rival Clan Brodie threatens. The only way to keep the peace is for Laird Macoran to accept an arranged marriage with Agnes Brodie. It will be a loveless marriage that will also separate Jirvel from Macoran.

The reunion of Stefan and Kannak as well as Jirvel and Laird Macoran closes out the story and sets up Marti Talbot’s follow-on books about future generations. Younger readers will likely enjoy the storybook ending. For the more mature audience the abrupt plot resolution, its innocence, and the dearth of violence that characterized the historical period likely will temper their reaction to it. However, taken as a whole, The Viking is an easy read and enjoyable tale. It may not be anything that you expected, but it can and should be appreciated for what it is.

 

 

The Last Kingdom: My Review

The Last Kingdom is the first book in a series by Bernard Cornwell on the reign of Alfred the Great, A.D. 871-899. The title refers to the Kingdom of Wessex which was the last to holdout against the Danes after they raided and captured the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. The Danes sought to colonize what would eventually become England and replace its society with their own to include the worship of the pagan gods Odin and Thor.

 The story actually begins in 866 A.D. with the introduction of Uhtred of Bebbanburg who at age ten witnesses the death of his father at the hands of the Danes. The death will initiate a blood feud to regain his title and lands which in the course of time (Book One covers the next ten years) will see Uthred raised by the Danes but ultimately aligned with Alfred.

His allegiance will be tested repeatedly as he tries to reconcile his previous life and religious beliefs with the Viking warrior lifestyle and the promise of Valhalla.  It is a struggle of conscience between the piety of Christianity, belief in a loving God, and a place in heaven versus his predisposition toward the pagan gods, militarism, and the thrill of battle. Participation in Viking raids and fighting in a great shield wall earn prestige and status on earth while also promising an afterlife with endless merrymaking. The Church and priesthood, on the other hand, offer a life of quiet reflection and scholarly pursuits with the hope of saving one’s soul. 

Cornwell lets the reader know Uthred’s thoughts and inclinations by relating his tale from the perspective of an old man looking back on his life. The first person narrative combines humor and pathos to capture the significant historical events of the period, the people involved in them, and the savagery of the times. It also firmly establishes the series and subsequent books as must read experiences to know the outcome of Uthred’s story.

One final note, keeping up with the names of places will be a challenge to many readers. Refer to the listing of Anglo-Saxon place names at the beginning of the book for their spelling at the time of Alfred’s reign and their more modern versions. Similarly, character names and relationships can be confusing. Variations of the same name were common. As an example, “Ealdorman AEtheired, son of AEtheired, brother of AEthelwulf, father of AEtheired, and brother to another AEtheired who had been the father of AElswith who was married to Alfred.” Don’t let this dissuade you. It all sorts itself out, or will in the next ten books!