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Swords of Good Men Hardcover – 7 January 2014
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- Publisher : Jo Fletcher Books (7 January 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 298 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1623650747
- ISBN-13 : 978-1623650742
- Dimensions : 16 x 2.64 x 23.62 cm
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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.
It deals with one definite true viking historical figure, that of Olav Tryggvason, King of Norwary and a fierce converter of his people to the Christian faith. Once you start reading you will learn how the word 'fierce' is perhaps an understatement. But he's one third of the story.
The second third belongs to fictional viking noblemen, both sons of prominent Jarls elsewhere, and both travel together to a fictional trading town of Stenvik, somewhere on the scandinavian coast line. I admitt now the storytelling and mental building in the imagination of Stenvik makes it almost as real as Hedeby would have been in it's hay day during the viking period BUT Stenvik is not real. And therefore neither are the characters who inhabit it - with the many secrets, hidden agendas, complicated relationships etc. But to be honest once you start relating with, connecting to and generally wanting more through curiousity and interest about these characters - like all good storytelling they become real enough to matter.
The final third of this epic story involves 6, I may have miscounted, but yes 6 apparently renowned and feared Viking raiders and their crew that amazingly make up an army of around the 1000 mark (give or take a few for counting from memory) oh yes and the amazing star that really stole the show for me is a mysterious woman/girl who does what Joan of Arc did with the French - lead the Viking pagan raiders into battle. It is her character in particular that adds the fantasy element to this otherwise fictional historical fiction tale due to her powers of prophecy etc.
And these 3 sections of key characters with all their goals and struggles descend upon the fictional town of Stenvik to create one hell of a bloody, gorey, death filled, never ending battle effectively boiling down to Norse Gods vs Christ. I know one thing, if I was left to manage the town after the all-you-can-eat feast for the ravens I would just say BURN IT because the amount of blood spileld would stain the earth for decades.
However given this unusual norse fantasy tale in disguise as historical fiction complexity, it is a very good read. Plenty of drama, tension, the reader gets given a lot of secrets which in some cases you have to hold your tongue to prevent yourself shouting at the pages 'no don't go in the dark room...' or even 'OMG' for when there is a twist within the plot. Which brings me to the genuine surprise which is the ending. It is not what any reader I think will see coming and will leave you wondering a lot about what you have just experienced within those last chapters. To put it in a nutshell - it is a dramatic telling of what the Norwegians experiences when their King Olav was travelling around saying 'abandon Odin and join Christ or else' with a few hundred warriors at his back. Nowadays it's West vs East, Christians vs Muslims, Christ vs Allah. That conflict of people and faith happened to the Vikings on epic scale under King Olav and for a lot people giving up the Gods or not meant an end to the world they had all lived in for centuries. And it is almost in their honour for the many who died when fighting against such a tide of conversion that Snorri writes this tale.
So if you like historical fiction and don't mind a bit of 'stretching the truth' and if you LOVE your battles and blood then yeh, give this book a go. May the ending surprise you as much as it did me.
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.
The writing has a cinematic edge to it. The way the world and people are drawn is very visual and reminds me of Terry Pratchett, David Gemmell or Clive Barker. So many interesting characters to love and hate and mourn. So many places to see and experience. I can't recommend this enough, indeed I bought 4 copies as Christmas gifts for friends last year and it was well received by all.