The Half-Drowned King

The Half-Drowned King

Since the death of Ragnvald Eysteinsson's father in battle, he has worked hard to protect his sister Svanhild and planned to inherit his family's land when he comes of age. But when the captain of his ship tries to kill him on the way home from a raiding excursion, he must confront his stepfather's betrayal, and find a way to protect his birthright. It is no easy feat in V...

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Title:The Half-Drowned King
Author:Linnea Hartsuyker
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Half-Drowned King Reviews

  • Rick

    Disclosure: I read an advanced reader's copy loaned to me by a friend.

    I'm pretty choosy about historical fiction. Having read quite a few of the original sagas on which this novel is based, I admit to approaching it with a bit of trepidation. Surely it couldn't live up to the real thing, I thought. Surely the author would make some elementary mistakes about early medieval mentality. I'm pleased to say that I was totally wrong. This is a great book, and one of the best works of historical fiction

    Disclosure: I read an advanced reader's copy loaned to me by a friend.

    I'm pretty choosy about historical fiction. Having read quite a few of the original sagas on which this novel is based, I admit to approaching it with a bit of trepidation. Surely it couldn't live up to the real thing, I thought. Surely the author would make some elementary mistakes about early medieval mentality. I'm pleased to say that I was totally wrong. This is a great book, and one of the best works of historical fiction I've read since O'Brian. Admittedly it may not be for everyone, as it centers around themes of revenge and violence - but, after all, those are dominant themes in the saga.

    Hartsuyker takes a brother/sister pair as her co-protagonists, and follows them through a tour of late 9th-century Norway and some of the real (Harald Fair-Hair) and fictional characters that populate it. Ragnovald is seeking vengeance against his stepfather for actions that occur both early in the novel and offstage. He links his fate to a series of striking characters, his stature and reputation rising as his wise counsel and heroic actions impress a series of jarls and kings. His sister, Svanhild, also has to make her way in this world; unhappy about the impending forced marriage arranged by her stepfather, and anxious to locate Ragnovald, she strikes out on her own ... at least, as much as a woman in Saga Norway could do. Hartsuyker did a good job of making Svanhild an engaging and active protoganist while still respecting (and explaining) the gender norms of the period.

    Both characters were well drawn, and exhibit some development across the tale. Yet it is the surrounding cast - Oddi, Hakon, Heming, Harald, Thorkell, etc., the author's careful recreation of the world of the 9th century, and the fast-moving plot that makes this novel shine.

    I recommend this to anyone interested in viking-era Europe, and look forward to the promised future volumes featuring Ragnovald (and, hopefully, Svanhild). (less)

  • Will Byrnes

    Ragnvald Eysteinsson (hereafter referred to as Rags, with apologies to Dave Righetti, although Hartsuyker pronounces it

    , so Ron might have worked better) is a pretty decent young man, by the measures of the time. Young (20), strong, lithe, and happy to be on a raiding mission with the impressive Captain Solvi, a Loki-type figure. Rags has been a productive member of the crew and is having a good time as the mission nears its end. Downside is that Solvi had been biding his time until the

    Ragnvald Eysteinsson (hereafter referred to as Rags, with apologies to Dave Righetti, although Hartsuyker pronounces it

    , so Ron might have worked better) is a pretty decent young man, by the measures of the time. Young (20), strong, lithe, and happy to be on a raiding mission with the impressive Captain Solvi, a Loki-type figure. Rags has been a productive member of the crew and is having a good time as the mission nears its end. Downside is that Solvi had been biding his time until the right moment, which has now arrived, and Rags is unceremoniously tossed into the chilly waters of the ninth century North Sea. One might be tempted to say the waters off Norway, but the formation of that state had yet to take place and the beginnings of that process constitute one of the centerpieces of this novel.

    - from her Twitter pages

    Rags, the legitimate heir to his family’s land, had come to this aqueous situation as a result of an unfortunate turn in his lineage. Grandfather Ivar had been a king (

    ) on his land. Of course, you could hardly swing a battleaxe without dinging one of these petty kings, with their relatively small holdings. But Ivar’s son, Rags’s father, Eystein, had been a boaster and drinker, which left him dead and his land, and family in the hands of the singularly unpleasant Olaf. Rags about to arrive at his majority, Olaf preferred to remain

    of this particular realm by paying to have his stepson disinherited with extreme prejudice. Problem is, Rags survives. Awkward.

    The late ninth century was a time of ongoing conflict (and which time isn’t?), in which the petty kings (did not make that up, that

    what they were called) engaged in frequent conflict to seize or defend land. Consolidate here, lose a bit there. It gets tiresome, all this warfare. But then this kid, Harald Hårfagre (Fairhair), shows up. Teenager, military prodigy, master of Mixed Viking Arts. Has a clever uncle to help guide him, and a big dream. He wants to unite the myriad kingdoms into an actual nation, Norway. (The seven kingdoms?) It seems there is this trend going on at the time, of smaller, tribal areas clotting together to form larger, scarier entities, and forming one in Norway was, in considerable measure, necessary for self-defense. Buckles will be swashed.

    Yeah, he is in his twenties, but I could not get out of my head the image of Mets pitcher Noah Syndegaard as Harald. - From Muscle Milk

    Rags, all rescued and dried off, wants to slip in to a tribal gathering called a

    , where he hopes to accuse Solvi of trying to kill him, and also challenge his stepfather for paying Solvi to do it. He wants to win back the hand (and presumably the rest) of his promised-since-childhood fiancée, Hilda. (Her father considers him a loser at this point and is not cool with her being with him.) She likes him too. In a land where might makes right, legal proceedings are not necessarily an effective solution when trying to right a wrong. In fact, as one might expect, many disputes are settled with sharp weapons instead of sharp minds. And the legal system in question is at least as purchasable as is the one in place today.

    There is a lot in here about the codes of honor extant at the time. Swearing allegiance to someone was a big, life-and-death deal. Upside is that swearing allegiance to the right person might get you the backing you need to defend your land, or maybe take someone else’s. Of course, swearing allegiance to the wrong sort could present terminal challenges.

    Following Rags’s adventures offers one a fascinating look at Viking culture. Through his experiences, we get to see what was considered fair play, get a sense of familial relations, see what passed for law, and government, and even have a bit of a look at how people made a living. One of the most fascinating elements, and not in a good way, was the treatment of women.

    A 14th century rendering of Harry the Blonde – from Wikimedia

    But was he really blonde? These guys were known to bleach their hair, for real. Hildie, quick, come look. Did I get it all? Did I miss any spots? How long to I have to leave this stuff on?

    Speaking of which, Rags has a sister, Svanhild, 16. And she is amazing! (Svanderful?) She is stuck with the same evil stepfather as Rags. While Olaf may not manifest carnal intent toward her, he would like nothing more than to marry her off strategically, to secure a much-needed alliance with a stronger family. Not much interested in the bear of a guy Olaf has in mind for her, and feeling pressured, she strikes out on her own, not generally a big 9th century move for young women.

    It gets complicated. But what shines through is her eagerness to experience as much of life as she can. No sitting home spinning, cooking, and popping out mini-Vikings for this young lady. Much more Boadicea than brood-mare, more Valkyrie than Vanity Fair, Svan is faced with some very difficult choices, and manages to manage. She may be a relatively tough cookie physically, but that is not what gets her through.

    She is challenged by an ignorant sort on the supposedly easier life women of the time experience.

    One of the really wonderful things about this novel is that it does not stuff a 21st century perspective into a 9th Century world. While Svan’s adventure may resonate with contemporary understandings of gender, there was precedent for such behavior in that era. In the case of Rags, he does some pretty amazing things, but he also engages in behavior that is appalling by today’s standards.

    The original Viking cruise – from Gettysburg.edu

    The novel portrays challenges males and females faced in that primitive time. Young men were expected to be adept at military combat. They had to engage in battle to maintain control of their land, presuming they had any, and woe to him who was less than a physical specimen. If you want to keep your land, you had better be able to defend it against all attackers. (I could certainly see this happening eventually as a possible model for apartment distribution in NYC.) Something like 33 Percent of Viking men did not make it to adulthood. 35 percent of woman did not see 30. (see death by childbirth) Even among those who managed to make it past adolescence, average life expectancy was on the dark side of 40. Women were regarded as chattel more than anything. And while they may have had influence, particularly were one to be #1 wife in a powerful household, they had little power. Some of the descriptions of how they were treated will definitely make your blood boil. Hartsuyker shows diverse ways by which women coped.

    This is an historical novel for which Linnea Hartsuyker has done a considerable amount of research. But it started with one particular bit of intel.

    Adventuring headgear of the age, available, no doubt, at Amazon. Monographing is extra.

    Many of the characters actually existed, although some had to be invented to keep the story moving, and to fill in historical gaps. You might not want to google too much information on Viking history if you want to avoid spoiling sundry outcomes in this novel, and the two that are planned to succeed it. There was another draw to the era for Hartsuyker.

    History was not the only consideration here. Hartsuyker also looks at myth-making. The era was one in which legend played a large role (another resonance with today). Where does history leave off and a good story (fake news?) begin. One character, for example, is telling his own history, and is challenged when it is clear that he might just be embellishing a teensy bit.

    And I am sure his was the largest audience ever, too. Rags has some notable successes in the field, and is modest about those, but is encouraged by people with greater political savvy to at least own up to, if not fluff up the tales to enhance his own standing among his peers.

    A Viking house – from AncientPages.com

    The current uptick in interest in things Viking touches contemporary concerns. In a recent interview on

    , Seth Meyers asked CNN political reporter Jake Tapper what question people asked him most when then encountered him on his vacation. Tapper’s response, “Are we going to be ok? Are we going to survive this administration?” certainly speaks to existential concerns. And if everything goes kerblooey, we may again become more reliant on physical skills and the need to fend off rampaging hordes of armed attackers.

    There are elements of fantasy here as well. After being unceremoniously tossed from his ship, Rags has an encounter with the goddess of the deep, Ran, and sees an image that will forge his future path. Another character is said to be a seer. Another has an issue with being dead. These are scattered throughout, and are few in number, but do give the story a tincture of fantasy. Of course with tales of all sorts being told at

    , it is no large stretch to accept that, in this pre-scientific world, an acceptance of the supernatural could be…um…natural.

    With

    , Linnea Hartsuyker has launched a successful raid on the worlds of both historical and fantasy literature with her Norse saga. There is no doubt she will be returning home with considerable booty. This novel is not just a rollicking adventure. It is not just a wonderfully rendered fictionalized account of some very real historical events, offering a portrait of the lives of that era. It is also a very engaging tale of a brother and sister, both trying to make their way in a hostile world, both coping with questions of freedom versus a constricted security, both facing challenges in having to balance justice with vengeance. While they may not be written at the highest possible level of character portraiture, they are drawn well enough to make them relatable. You will care for both, even if you are likely to take exception to some of the decisions they make.

    Time to sharpen your pointy helmets, lighten your hair, put a fine edge on the nearest battle-axe and strap on some chain-mail. Vikings rule in

    . It is not a short book, but you might fight your way through it without coming up for air.

    Eager readers rushing to the bookstore

    Review Posted – September 9, 2017

    Published

    -----hardcover - August 1, 2017

    -----trade paperback - June 26, 2018

    =============================

    Links to the author’s

    and

    pages

    There are two more books planned in this trilogy. The second,

    (2018), is written. I am not sure if the third,

    (2019), has been completed yet.

    seemed appropriate, for Svan anyway. I looked for a performance in Oslo, but came up short.

    Articles by the author worth checking out

    -----

    - on the Fantasy Literature site -

    -----

    - on LitHub

    Interviews

    -----(Print)

    - mostly on writing process, but there are some wonderful bits of intel here

    -----(Video) -

    -----(Audio) -

  • switterbug (Betsey)

    This book was a one-off for me. I don’t watch Game of Thrones nor do I typically watch battle sagas of the early centuries, but I had a gut feeling about this well-researched novel, and I’m glad I followed my instincts. This historical legend, filled with myth, sorcery, and the harshest landscape imaginable, was rowdy and bloody, rugged and visceral. And a woman stole the show!

    Hartsuyker created strong, flawed characters that would be considered heinous in modern times, of course. She didn’t su

    This book was a one-off for me. I don’t watch Game of Thrones nor do I typically watch battle sagas of the early centuries, but I had a gut feeling about this well-researched novel, and I’m glad I followed my instincts. This historical legend, filled with myth, sorcery, and the harshest landscape imaginable, was rowdy and bloody, rugged and visceral. And a woman stole the show!

    Hartsuyker created strong, flawed characters that would be considered heinous in modern times, of course. She didn’t sugarcoat them by trying to couch them prettily for 21st century readers, just to pander to modern morals. She stuck to the time, place, and perceptions of the ancient Scandinavian way of life.

    Ragnvild Eyestein is the primary protagonist, a young man who wants to be counted, and fight back for his land that his grandfather, a powerful king, had secured, but his carousing father had lost, due to the love of drink. Set to marry his childhood sweetheart, Hilda, he is now also old enough to find a mate for his wily sister, Svanhild, rather than leave it in the hands of his betraying stepfather, Olaf. But Svanhild is free-spirited and willful, and wants to speak for herself. The relationship between Svanhild and Ragnvild, dimensional and heartrending, was the locus of the story. Honor and sacrifice are the key ingredients to this tale, filled with savage landscapes and often even more savage men.

    “Every free man should know how to forge a sword, carve a shield, build a boat, set a trap, and defend himself with a sword, dagger, and ax…” And this novel has it all. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the battle scenes, but they were fascinating, more like chess, with a lot more blood! And I grew attached to the characters, especially Ragnvild and Svanhild. Exciting, with breathtaking scenery and adventure on every page, you won’t be disappointed.

  • Cynthia

    I know it’s only February 2018 but this is the best book I’ve read this year. It was one of those books, even at almost 450 pages, I wished was longer. I found myself slowing down toward the end because I didn’t want the experience to be over. Luckily, in the author’s note, Hartsuyker says there will be sequels.

    I’ve been an addict of the series Vikings since it began and can’t wait for the sixth season to hit my front door though it’s main emphasis has been on the Vikings famed raiding for treas

    I know it’s only February 2018 but this is the best book I’ve read this year. It was one of those books, even at almost 450 pages, I wished was longer. I found myself slowing down toward the end because I didn’t want the experience to be over. Luckily, in the author’s note, Hartsuyker says there will be sequels.

    I’ve been an addict of the series Vikings since it began and can’t wait for the sixth season to hit my front door though it’s main emphasis has been on the Vikings famed raiding for treasure and conquering and ruling distant lands with its warfare and fighting skills.

    Half-Drowned King has some of that too but it’s also about Viking history, philosophy, and society structure as seen through the two main characters brother and sister Ragnvald and Svanhild. Chapters alternate between their two adventures and viewpoints which give interesting insight between how women and men viewed life and the customs of the time. Theirs lots of swashbuckling adventure but interpersonal relationships and alliances remain at the root of the story. I can’t wait to read anything else Hartsuyker writes on this or any other topic.

    Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reader’s copy.

  • Truman32

    Vikings are a baffling lot—they personify the best of what we like to think we can be—brave, adventurous, noble, cultivating incredibly bushy beards, and possessing the flair to wear horns as an accessory mixed with enough radioactive alt-right notions that would make your everyday white supremacist say, “

    Slow down there for a second Gunnhild, I think that viewpoint is a mite intolerant!”

    But if you can put aside the rape, murder, slavery, misogyny, etc. perpetrated by the good

    Vikings are a baffling lot—they personify the best of what we like to think we can be—brave, adventurous, noble, cultivating incredibly bushy beards, and possessing the flair to wear horns as an accessory mixed with enough radioactive alt-right notions that would make your everyday white supremacist say, “

    Slow down there for a second Gunnhild, I think that viewpoint is a mite intolerant!”

    But if you can put aside the rape, murder, slavery, misogyny, etc. perpetrated by the good guys in Linnea Hartsuyker’s adventure

    , you will find that Viking stories can also be pretty exciting.

    Ragnvald and his little sis, Svanhild, live under the care of their cruel stepfather who more than likely killed Dad and took his land. Ragnvald has embarked on a fine carrier of raiding along the coastline until his captain, Solvi (hired by that stepdad), stabs him in the face and throws him into the drink to drown. Svanhild meanwhile, has been instructed to marry an enormous and gross old man who is friends with her stepdad. These two kids are in t-r-o-u-b-l-e!

    Like a couple dancing the paso doble, Ragnvald and Svanhild begin

    together, but then separate to find their own rhythms and stories. They will eventually sashay their way back to each other, but only after much hardship, fighting, royal intrigue, and other Viking wackiness has ensued.

    Hartsuyker’s book is an entertaining epic. I picked it up after seeing it on a list of books to read while waiting for the next

    novel to come out (it’ll be here any day now, I’m sure!) and while this bold Viking tale is more along the lines of historical fiction with no fantasy elements, it does match up as a lite alternative for fans of that series.

  • Sandy

    3.5 stars

    When I read the description for this book my first thought was “Gimme!”, for a couple of reasons. I’ve done a lot of family genealogical research & was intrigued to find that some of my dodgy ancestors began life in Norway before taking a wrong turn & landing on the shores of Scotland in the 15th century. Men…just will not ask for directions. But suddenly I understood why I’ve always wanted a helmet with horns. It’s genetic.

    The other thing that caught my eye were comparisons mad

    3.5 stars

    When I read the description for this book my first thought was “Gimme!”, for a couple of reasons. I’ve done a lot of family genealogical research & was intrigued to find that some of my dodgy ancestors began life in Norway before taking a wrong turn & landing on the shores of Scotland in the 15th century. Men…just will not ask for directions. But suddenly I understood why I’ve always wanted a helmet with horns. It’s genetic.

    The other thing that caught my eye were comparisons made to “Game of Thrones”, “Vikings” & “Outlander”, 3 epic tales that sweep you off your feet & drop you firmly in the muck & mayhem of the past. More on this later.

    In this first of a trilogy, we’re introduced to Ragnvald Eysteinsson & his sister Svanhild. The story begins with Ragnvald aboard a ship that is returning home from a raid. Instead of a warm welcome, someone tries to kill him on orders from his stepfather Olaf. Ragnvald stands to inherit a sizeable inheritance from his deceased father but Olaf has other plans. It’s a pivotal moment that sets in motion everything that follows as Ragnvald seeks to regain his birthright & give Svanhild a better life.

    The story is based on sagas of King Harald that were written in the 13th century & it’s obvious the author has done extensive research. Settings are atmospheric & rich in cultural detail. You gain a great sense of how these people lived & what they believed. This is the book’s strong point & what I enjoyed most. Unfortunately, the main characters fared less well. There is something missing that I have trouble putting my finger on…depth or passion…that prevents them from becoming fully fleshed out. My other issue was with pacing. You’d expect a bit of a roller coaster, ranging from the mundane of everyday life to epic battles but oddly enough there’s not much difference between how these are portrayed. Maybe that’s the point. Whether you’re having dinner or engaged in swordplay, it’s all in a day’s work if you’re a viking.

    Hence the problem with comparing it to the 3 series above. Because of the bold & colourful characters in those stories, you become deeply invested in their fates & feel a range of emotion that places you firmly in the grip of the narrative. Here, due to the author’s impressive knowledge of period detail, the setting often outshines the characters. I was also hoping for the inclusion of more Norse mythology as it was a significant influence on their belief system but that’s a minor personal quibble.

    As always, it comes down to what you look for in a story & there are plenty of readers (and fans of the series mentioned above) who have given this high marks. So if you’re in the mood for some old fashioned raiding, give it a go. The good news is there are 2 more in the works. Oh, and the helmets? Turns out there’s next to no evidence any self respecting viking would’ve been caught dead in one. Great….anyone want to buy a set of horns?

  • Jane

    Novel of 9th century Vikings--what was unusual was showing their life on shore, mostly as farmers, and emphasizing women's lives. The protagonist, Ragnvald, is thrown overboard and is rescued by a fisherman. He has a vision of a "golden wolf" which he later feels is King Harald, who wants to unite and rule all of Norway. Ragnvald wants to kill his stepfather, who has stolen his patrimony. His sister, Svanhild, to escape an unwanted marriage to a much older man, runs away and goes to sea with her

    Novel of 9th century Vikings--what was unusual was showing their life on shore, mostly as farmers, and emphasizing women's lives. The protagonist, Ragnvald, is thrown overboard and is rescued by a fisherman. He has a vision of a "golden wolf" which he later feels is King Harald, who wants to unite and rule all of Norway. Ragnvald wants to kill his stepfather, who has stolen his patrimony. His sister, Svanhild, to escape an unwanted marriage to a much older man, runs away and goes to sea with her husband, archrival of her brother. Novel was interesting, showing another side of Vikings, but nothing special. This was the first in a projected trilogy, using one of the old sagas as a starting point.

  • Roy

    Conflicted with this one. The 1st 100 pages or so is exactly what I was expecting after reading the blurb. A revenge Viking novel with a great historical fiction feel. However as I read further into the book, I felt this sense of belonging to the story slowly disappearing. I feel like the historical aspect and overall atmosphere was extremely well done, but the characterisation/empathy torwards characters was a little of a letdown. Cant really put my finger on it but I felt like something was mi

    Conflicted with this one. The 1st 100 pages or so is exactly what I was expecting after reading the blurb. A revenge Viking novel with a great historical fiction feel. However as I read further into the book, I felt this sense of belonging to the story slowly disappearing. I feel like the historical aspect and overall atmosphere was extremely well done, but the characterisation/empathy torwards characters was a little of a letdown. Cant really put my finger on it but I felt like something was missing the entire time. The historical aspect and writing was a 4 star but the plot/characters 2 stars. I'll meet somewhere in the middle. A little disapointed with this one in a sense as I had high expectations.

  • Emily

    I really wanted to love this book, but it lost my interest about two-thirds of the way through. It's carefully detailed historical fiction set in ninth-century Norway, based on the

    and featuring siblings as the main protagonists. Unfortunately, the characters don't live up to the promising start, and the action-packed plot - which too often relies on poorly written character conflict to push it forward - becomes increasingly tiresome. By the end, I barely cared what happened and was

    I really wanted to love this book, but it lost my interest about two-thirds of the way through. It's carefully detailed historical fiction set in ninth-century Norway, based on the

    and featuring siblings as the main protagonists. Unfortunately, the characters don't live up to the promising start, and the action-packed plot - which too often relies on poorly written character conflict to push it forward - becomes increasingly tiresome. By the end, I barely cared what happened and was somewhat dismayed that there are apparently two (!) more planned books in this series.

    The real problem with this story is Ragnvald, who spends the book working towards reclaiming his birthright from his villainous stepfather, Olaf. Ragnvald is portrayed as a headstrong young warrior whose conceptions of morality are grounded in heroic tales, and he's frequently his own worst enemy (particularly at the

    ). However, the rest of the plot - where Ragnvald is torn between two kings - requires him to give wise counsel, suggest the winning battle plans, accurately assess his fellows with unparalleled insight, and prove his worth so handily that he's famed among the warriors. He's only "headstrong" when the novel needs to find a flaw for him, or when it helps the plot. This would work if there were believable character development in the novel, but the packed plot and split protagonists make that difficult.

    The other characters are not much better than Ragnvald. Many of the decisions and turning points are marked by conversations between the kings and Ragnvald, and those conversations are flat and unbelievable. There's no interesting or believable political intrigue here: you can see the author dragging the story along. Ragnvald's foil, Oddi, is only that - a foil. Ragnvald's sister Svanhild is a more fully-realized character, but it's hard to get a handle on her (is she a competent housekeeper despite being a terrible spinner?). I liked the Svanhild-Solvi storyline the most, but

    . The heart of this novel, in my opinion, is Ragnvald's quest to reclaim his birthright from Olaf, who has tried to have him killed.

    It's clear that the author is trying to follow the sagas very closely, but this would be a better novel if it had gone off-script to find the most compelling part of the story.

    Finally, this book desperately needs a map. If you pick it up after publication and there is no map in the front, drop it immediately. This is a litany of place names and voyages from one point of Norway to the other. It can get really confusing when it's not grounded visually.

  • Roman Clodia

    I found this a limp and bloodless tale, thin and surprisingly unexciting. The reason is that too much is told to us rather than dramatised as in the quotation above: we're told that Solvi narrates the deeds of the raiders but we don't hear them; we're told that some of the Vikings are unhappy with their rewards, we don't see

    I found this a limp and bloodless tale, thin and surprisingly unexciting. The reason is that too much is told to us rather than dramatised as in the quotation above: we're told that Solvi narrates the deeds of the raiders but we don't hear them; we're told that some of the Vikings are unhappy with their rewards, we don't see them vocalising or acting out their dissatisfaction, or know why. Hartsuyer consistently misses these opportunities to fill out her story with telling details and actions.

    Take, too, the opening scene of a race along the oars of a long-ship: it's tame, it's bland, it doesn't grab the reader: the same set-piece in the hands of a far better writer (Dorothy Dunnett's oar race in

    ) is pulsatingly, breathtakingly, dangerous and tells us important things about the culture we're in and the characters in the scene.

    I really wanted to love this modern take on Norse epic but found it dull, unconvincing and overly predictable - very disappointing.

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