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Blood and Blade

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I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Matthew’s new Bernicia Chronicles novel a few weeks back, which pleased me immensely, as his work had been on my radar for some time and I’d been meaning to find time to fit in his first book.

I’ll say at the outset that Dark Age, Anglo-Saxon Britain is not my era of choice and an author has to work hard to draw and keep my attention. I have discarded a dozen Dark Age novels unfinished. Kudos to Harffy then that I stayed riveted to Blood and Blade right to the end, especially given that this is the third book in his series and I had been dropped in the deep end, unfamiliar with the characters and the ongoing story arc.

One of the strengths of the novel is the characters. The lead, a little like Cornwell’s Uhtred, is a little straightforward for my taste, but that works well in the book, as he becomes the linchpin around which the fascinating cast of supporting characters work, and some of those secondary cast really did intrigue and delight me.

The tale ranges across the length of England, from Northumberland down to Essex and Wessex, then back up to the north and beyond into the wilds of southern Scotland where it reaches a breakneck, action-packed conclusion, resolving a long-term thread that has clearly been developing in earlier books.

The pace is good, the characterisation excellent, the writing absorbing. All in all a very good read.

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Written by SJAT

December 1, 2016 at 11:14 am

Winter’s Fire

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Winter’s Fire is almost certainly my favourite Giles Kristian book so far, and that’s no mean feat, since I generally find the second book in a series to be the poorer cousin. Mind you, this might be the second book in Sigurd’s rise, but realistically it’s the fifth novel he’s written in the ongoing Sigurd and Raven series. Is it good? Let’s just say I spent this afternoon making Viking-based jokes and comments around Ripon and singing ‘Fimbrulvinter, fimbrulvinter’ to the tune of Spongebob Squarepants. Oddly, nobody asked me why, so I never got the chance to explain that Winter’s Fire is released today.

I really enjoyed God of Vengeance last year, especially following the somewhat dark and heavy Brothers’ Fury, and was more than pleased to be back in Kristian’s vision of the Viking world. And Winter’s Fire continues that tale perfectly. But there are subtle differences. Because this is not the disastrous cause of Sigurd’s vengeance, but part of his journey, there is less need for doom-laden anguish in this book and more room for humour. In that respect it reminds me more of the original Raven books than its immediate predecessor. There is more humour and adventurous yarn-weaving here than in the previous book, and that is very welcome to me. Historical fiction takes itself rather too seriously at times, and it is nice to be able to laugh at a fart gag from time to time. After all, we’re all mentally 12 when you come down to it.

Kristian’s skill as a storyteller and constructor of plots is notable with this book for one reason in particular to me. Like The Empire Strikes Back (yes, I return to my usual trilogy comparison) Winter’s Fire does not tell a focused story which ties up tight at the end. It roves as a plot, with tendrils reaching out in different areas, introducing new elements and bringing old ones back. Indeed, from part way through the book, we are given an entirely new thread to follow as Sigurd’s sister’s own tale becomes as important as a central theme as his. And the story kind of ends (minor spoiler I guess) on something of a cliffhanger, in the old fashioned weekly adventure serial style. How will the hero get out of this? And yet, despite the apparent disparate nature of the plot, it just works. It reads beautifully, it feels like a tale that grows, then focuses, then comes to a satisfactory conclusion. Indeed, as I said, it is, I think, my fave of his works thus far.

The story follows Sigurd and his motley crew as they prepare for the backlash of his killing of Jarl Randver in the previous book. He knows King Gorm will come for him, or send men to do so. And with his Odin Favour he manages to slip the net, of course, and set off on a new epic. But what he doesn’t know is that a new villain has promised the treacherous king that he will take Sigurd’s life. Thus begins a series of seemingly random events that will send Sigurd into the service of a King and a Jarl he’s never heard of and his sister Runa into the arms of a religious sisterhood the like of which we would love to see armed to the teeth and paying a visit to ISIS. Threads you could almost forget from early in the book will come into play near the end.

Moreover, as well as the usual crew, who we know and love from other books, there are several new and exciting characters brought forth in this book. The villain, who you will soon identify, is a true, chilling, evil bastard. He is not the common or garden villain that Randver was. This fellow is a truly unpleasant piece of work. You’ll love him. You’ll hate him. You’ll love to hate him. And the former champion of King Gorm? Well, I’ll let you discover that on your own. And the seidr-wife? Well she is just too cool.

I could go on for hours. The fact is that this book will almost certainly be in my year’s top 10 in December. It’s a work of the skald’s art. It came out today. That means you can have it on your e-reader or in the mail to you within the minute if you just open a new tab. Do it. Just go do it. It’s a win in every way. Kristian has been in the top tier of historical and adventure writers for years, but he’s just upped his game again.

Written by SJAT

April 7, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Fire and Steel

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Now here’s the thing. The Dark Ages bore me. As a historical period I find it generally mundane and uninteresting. As the subject for books and movies it holds little more interest. Not, for some odd reason, Vikings, by the way. Vikings oddly interest me. But all the thousand mud-dwelling peoples that flit around NW Europe between 410 and 1066? Yawn.

Saying that, every now and then there’s something set in the era that interests me.

Fire and Steel manages – and this is critical for me – to avoid the pit falls and cliches that plague the era. And, given the fact that the book references both Arthur (as in KING Arthur) and Beowulf, it’s pretty impressive managing to stay on track and not make me run for the hills. The Arthurian and Beowulf connections are very subtly handled.

The story is interesting in that it tells the tale (or at least the first part of the tale) of the Angle invasion that to some extent creates a unified English identity and helps forge a nation out of a land that has erstwhile been just fragmented tribes. Apparently this is a spin-off from another series, with one of that series’ side characters as its protagonist, but it’s kind of hard to tell. It works well on its own and while there are moments where the background is probably better fleshed out if you’ve read the others, it is well enough covered that you do not strictly need it.

The battle scenes are well written. Detailed without being ‘info-dump’, graphic without being offensively so. In fact, the latter part of the book is more or less one great battle, with several different scenes. This is portrayed nicely and quite cinematically. The characters are believable and maintain a camaraderie that allows the reader to bond with them. In particular, I was impressed with the naval scenes, right down to the terminology and the clear knowledge behind them. The plot moved along at a good pace, never managing to get bogged down and, if I had a complaint about any of the above it would be that it ends rather suddenly. Not on a cliffhanger, just sort of ‘here’s the army all ready for war. See you next week on Dark Age arse-kickers.’ I guess that will probably niggle me into reading book 2 when it comes out, mind.

My only real trouble with the book is the same one I have with nearly all works set in the Dark Ages. With the exception of the main half dozen characters, I was a little confused about who was being referenced at all times (not the fault of the book, you’ll note, but of me for my inability to cope with Dark Age naming.) Similarly, I was befuddled with the locations and geography to the extent that for a while, during the fighting in Denmark I was under the impression we were in Britain. Again, that’s me. Oddly, I can cope with modern geography (it’s one of my strengths) and I can transpose that very well into and out of Roman geography and Latin naming, but when I get to the Germanic-influenced centuries in between I get lost easily. And I zipped to the maps a few times to try and orient myself, but you know what it’s like on kindle, a bit of a pain in the but flashing back and forth. So that’s my complaint with the book, and you can clearly see that I’m following the age-old rules of breaking up: ‘It’s not you, darling, it’s me.’ So those of you who don’t suffer my utter bewilderment with the Dark Ages will presumably be fine.

Written by SJAT

March 21, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Warriors of the Storm

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For years friends of mine have raved about Cornwell’s Uhtred novels, and I have intended to read the series at some point, but never seemed to find the time. For the record the last Cornwells I read were the Sharpe series back in the day and, though I think I tired a little of the series towards the end, I remember the earlier ones as some of the absolutely best novels I have ever read.

So when I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of the new Cornwell, I had to say yes, didn’t I. I did wonder whether I would really be able to get into the novel, being as it’s book #9 and I have yet to read 1 to 8. No need to worry. From the very first page I remembered why I loved Cornwell’s writing. Warriors of the Storm opens straight to the action, dragging the reader right in. It is filled with the smooth, almost effortlessly absorbing prose that I remember being Cornwell at his best. The descriptive is full and rich, the moments of light-hearted humour beautifully worked.

Set in the early 10th century, the Last Kingdom series is a strange milieu to me. The Dark Ages is a curious era, full of change and uncertainty. A mish-mash of cultures struggle to dominate Britain, from the Saxons and Danes to the Celts and the Scandinavian vikings, many of whom are by this time based in Ireland and Scotland. As a Roman historian, I am to some extent at a loss with 9th-10th century Britain, so this is fresh unfamiliar ground.

However, the bulk of this tale is based in an area I know quite well, that being Chester, the Wirral and surroundings, and to rediscover a place with which I am so familiar (I spend quite a bit of time reenacting there now and research a lot into Roman Deva), thjough in a whole different era, is fascinating.

The book opens as a norse lord (Ragnall Ivarson) who has long been an enemy of Uhtred’s begins an attempt to conquer parts of England. Driven out of his previous territory, this lord and his army sail into the Mersey, which is held by Uhtred, and begin to move inland making a play for invasion and control, holding an ancient hill fort and bridging the river into Northumbria, where a vast supply of potential manpower awaits. Cue a desperate campaign to counter the growing strength of Ivarson, who is related to the English hero through his brother’s marriage to Uhtred’s daughter, so yes, politics is inevitably going to play as much a part here as battle.

My friends rave about Uhtred. This is my first outing with him and, while he is a traditional hero with a particularly nice turn of phrase at times, I wouldn’t say there is much about him that makes him outstanding to me. That didn’t matter, though, because the supporting cast were so vivid and fascinating that I could deal rather easily without a deep fascination with the hero.

Aethelflaed, the daughter of King Alfred who rules Mercia and Wessex, is impressive and powerful, with flaws and uncertainties that make her a far more vivid character than Uhtred. The priests Ceolnoth and Ceolberht were fun and memorable for all their small role, the bishop Leofstan was simply superb, and of Uhtred’s own cadre of warriors, the Irishman Finan was one of the most interesting.

Of course if there is one thing for which Cornwell is noted it is his battles. He has a long pedigree of writing warfare across many eras, and this has over time granted him the ability to do so with pace and panache, never having to linger too much in the gory detail while delving deep enough to hook the reader and really create an impression of the horror, glory, and above all desperation of combat.

The upshot? Great characters, well-written prose, fascinating locations and excellent battle scenes. The plot might have benefitted from a few extra twists and turns, but that is merely icing on a well-made cake. Warriors of the Storm dragged me in and kept me glued to the end. Well worth a read, and now I am shuffling books 1-8 back up in my pile.

Written by SJAT

October 8, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Wulfsuna

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For the sake of transparency, I’ll say that I’m a friend of the author, though as always I will not allow that to influence my review. Also, I would say that I have really no experience with this era, though I was lucky enough to have read and early first draft of part of this book, so when I picked up the finished article I was somewhat prepared, though the book has changed considerably since then.

My great love is Rome, and I love in particular late Rome. Living in the north of England, the events of 383-410AD (from Maximus’ withdrawal of troops to the Roman withdrawal total) are ingrained in my psyche. But what happens after 410 and Roman money and government is removed from Britain? I mean, my knowledge from then on is largely Mediterranean-based and full of Vandals, Goths and Byzantine Emperors and Persian Satraps.

Well, so what does happen after 410? Well, in this particular read, a bunch of Saxons (Seaxens) – whose headman had served with the Roman border forces in Britannia and had returned to Germania after 410 – decides to return to the island, meet up with those of his tribe who stayed and married locals, and find a place in Britain to settle. So the Wulfsuna (Wolf Sons) have come back for good.

But two major events are about to kick that headman’s son in the metaphorical nuts. Firstly, the betrayal of their cousins upon arrival leaves them with his father dead and the tribe divided and in disarray – and with that strong enemy lurking somewhere, the job unfinished. Secondly, on the far side of the island, a young seeress is hounded from her village, haunted by the past and with visions of a brutal future in which the picts of the north swamp her home. These events are all going to combine and cause both horror and elation for the wolf sons as she joins with the tribe, while their betrayer seeks allies among the picts.

Enough of the plot, per se, in case of spoilers. Suffice it to say there is the oddest love triangle you’ll see, a plot driven by visions and guilt and revenge, and a most excellent fight in the woodland to boot!

The book is very well written. I’m not talking about the prose, the language, the copy etc, though I have to say they were all good. I found not one editing error or problem with the whole book. No. I’m talking about the writing itself. It is, I believe, one of the most difficult possible things for a writer to write convincingly from the point of view of the opposite sex, especially in a historical context. In no way would I ever be able to write convincingly a period piece among, for instance, Georgian ladies at leisure. One of them would inevitably grasp a gladius and dispatch another in a swathe of blood, with numerous fart jokes. Hence, I find it thoroughly impressive that Elaine Moxon has managed to write a tale of which two thirds revolves around the androcentric culture and battle lust of the warrior men of a Saxon tribe, and do it as convincingly as Giles Kristian or Rob Low portray their Vikings.

As I’ve said, I have little knowledge of the era in the north once the Romans left, so I can hardly claim to be any kind of expert in the historical accuracy. But, saying that, the whole book felt to me thoroughly immersed in the period and culture. It felt authentic, and for the reader, I would say that’s what matters. From the few points that I was able to consider the accuracy of, I would say that Elaine has hit the mark pretty much all the way through. It appears that she has really put in the research and knows her stuff. I do know that she attends and even gives talks on the Roman world at her local historical site and spends a deal of time with reenactors.

Lastly, for those who dislike the unknown/magic/spiritual in their historical fiction, you might want to think twice here. The mystical thoroughly influences and pervades this book. For me, it worked well and in fact felt appropriate as is often the case with such works.

On balance, this was a thoroughly immersing read and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in ‘Dark Age’ fiction or who is happy to dabble in this strange time.

Written by SJAT

February 19, 2015 at 11:23 am

The Terror – Giles Kristian

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It’s a common thing among writers these days to produce short stories between their main works. Heck, I do it myself on occasion. I’ve seen readers range from loving them and lauding them to moaning about them. But the one thing they do whether you approve or not is to allow the author to explore directions that their straightforward book series does not have room for. This is particularly the case with those writers who are published through the major traditional houses, who are more limited by their contracts than the independents.

In this case, Giles has taken an opportunity that would not fit into either his Raven series or his Sigurd series, and produced a tale that takes us back to the youth of Harald, Sigurd’s father. In essence, this is a prequel to the prequels. Moreover, it has a different style to the Sigurd series, in that it is more of a light-hearted adventure tale in the Raven mould than a Nordic saga in the Sigurd one. Giles continues to expand his take on the Viking world, spreading out backwards in time.

Once again, this being a prequel, it can be read independent of Giles’ other books, and would make the perfect taster if you’re not sure that his writing is for you.

The story revolves around a quest followed by a group of young men in the hope of winning the hand of a beautiful girl, the daughter of a Jarl. They must locate and subdue ‘The Terror’ and steal it from its current keeper for their own Jarl. I won’t tell you about The Terror itself. I’ll leave that a surprise for you, but be assured, it’s good. Swimming icy waters, fighting angry warriors, wrestling dangerous creatures, and of course, drinking, swearing, farting and in-fighting, Harald is determined to make a name for himself and win the girl. It is an interesting look at a character we were only given a tantalising glimpse of in God of Vengeance (check out my review of that book on the right-hand panel) and also introduces as a young man one character who runs through every viking work Giles has written thus far. Uncle. That is all.

So, it’s a short story only available as an e-book. It’s a piddly 99p. That’s gotta be worth a dip into the pocket. You can’t buy a sandwich for that, and a sandwich wouldn’t last you as long. Go get it on kindle here.

Going onwards, sorry for a rather sporadic burst of reviews recently. I’ve been beta reading unpublished works and running read throughs of my own joint work and have had little time for leisure reading. That’s changing again now, though, so more reviews to come.

Written by SJAT

November 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

The Oathsworn Series – Robert Low

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It strikes me that I may have been a little remiss in my reviewing. (Major understatement alert.)

It has been quite some time since I began the literary journey that is Rob Low’s Oathsworn series, and yet at no point have I reviewed them. My bad, Rob. My – as they say – bad…

Time to rectify the situation. You see, I’ve had my copy of Crowbone waiting to be read for ages, and finally, while on my recent research trip, I found the time and got stuck in, which instantly reminded me of why I love this series and spurred me to this blog post.

If you are not already aware of Rob’s work and this series, then allow me to enlighten you (though you may glean some of this from the pics and titles of the 5 book covers above). Robert Low is a Scottish author, rightly renowned for his two series of books: The Kingdom series which deals with the Scottish Wars of Independence under the Bruce, and the Oathsworn series, which follows the misadventures of a Viking crew. Rob is an imposing fellow. He has been involved in Viking reenactment for many years and his build and looks will immediately have you picturing him swinging an axe and shouting imprecations at Loki. He looks like he should write Viking books! And yet, with a varied, fascinating and very literary background, that imposing image is tempered by the discovery that it contains a witty, urbane raconteur, who can entertain a room with merely a look. Given that, imagine what he can do with a tale…

The Oathsworn series is fascinating, in that each book feels like a personal journey of the character involved, truly authentic-feeling and absorbing. They do not feel like novels with carefully constructed plots and intricately built characters. That is not to say that they are not, mind. They just don’t feel like it. They feel like a man’s life being revealed to you once scene at a time. Therein, I think, lies the truly unique nature of these books and what makes them a work of art rather than a series of books. Authenticity in even the feel of the text.

The series follows the life and exploits of one Orm ‘Bear-slayer’, initially a somewhat nervous and reluctant youngster, and I will give a short paragraph about each of the five books here. If you are worried about spoilers or finding anything out too soon, feel free to stop after book 1, or however far you’ve read…

1. THE WHALE ROAD

The first tale of the oathsworn sees Orm’s earliest adventures, in which he earns (doesn’t he?) the name ‘Bear-slayer’ and finds himself taking the Odin oath of the crew of the Fjord Elk under the impressive Einar. If, like me, when you think of Vikings, you think of Scandinavia, Denmark, northern Britain and the islands thereabouts, you’re in for a surprise. The Whale Road takes us in entirely opposite directions, heading to the eastern Baltic and European Russia. Here you will learn a great deal about the Vikings that takes you far from the Norwegian raiders you are likely familiar with. Rob’s clear knowledge of the era and the peoples of whom he writes comes through educationally in the book without ever feeling like he is having to teach you. I repeat that the books all feel like a skald’s tale of a man’s life. So, The Whale Road takes us east on a quest to find the ultimate treasure of the age: the silver hoard buried with Attila the Hun. In a tale that nods in the direction of a Viking Indiana Jones, We are on a treasure hunt, on which Orm will lose many friends, make new ones, learn much about himself and grow from a boy into early manhood and ultimately find himself at the very top of the heap, and wishing perhaps that he wasn’t. The book, like most of those that follow, is told in the first person, lending it a real feel of being inside Orm’s head. In essence, book 1 is a treasure hunt, an engrossing read and a powerful debut novel, filled with deceptive priests, witch-women and Odin-oathed raiders.

2. THE WOLF SEA

Now leading the oathsworn and beginning to appreciate what Einar went through, Orm finds himself on a new quest to retrieve his sword, which contains the only ‘map’ to the great silver treasure of Attila. Taken from him by one of the many adversaries who weave in and out of this entire series, Orm and the somewhat depleted Oathsworn crew head south into the great city of Constantinople and beyond, into the deserts of the Levant region. If you never thought of Vikings all over eastern Europe and the Russian steppe, you certainly will never have thought of them in the Syrian desert. But with the villain Starkad and the troublesome priest, Martin, involved, nothing was ever going to be easy. Orm’s first real test as a leader is a brutal one and is perhaps one of the principle reasons that throughout the series, Orm repeatedly attempts to settle and quit the raiding life, though the Norns have a different weaving for him. Book two, then, has moved on from being a treasure hunt into a man-hunt, though there is always the overshadowing presence in the background of that great silver pile that everyone wants and only the Oathsworn can find. Orm has grown up a little, though he is still a young man and probably too young to be in the commanding position that he occupies. Book 2 is a perfect follow-on from book 1, maintaining the same feel, the ongoing threads of the plot and villains from the first, and is an equally absorbing and fascinating read.

3. THE WHITE RAVEN

A book that will always stand out of the series for me simply for being the first appearance of Crowbone! The White Raven picks up several years after book 2 and finds Orm and his Oathsworn settled and attempting a land-bound life. As always, though, Orm’s path is prickly, and the Norns will not allow his thread to stay settled for long. When one of their women is kidnapped, the Oathsworn take to the whale road once more to retrieve her and get more than they bargain for. Retrieving her and freeing the curious young displaced prince of Norway – Crowbone – from enslavement on the way, they soon find themselves once more in Russian (Rus) lands, captured by a powerful prince and facing agonising death unless Orm relents and leads their captor back to that cursed pile of Silver buried with Attila. The third novel finds the crew of the Fjord Elk back on the trail of their first exploits, this time with Orm in charge and grown into a capable leader. With the entertaining and mesmerising character of Crowbone along for the ride, this is the best of the the first four books in my opinion, and sees old familiar faces return for both good and evil, and some new fascinating ones too. The descriptions of the dreadful conditions they face slogging out across the steppe stay with me several books on. While still maintaining the same feel as the first two and fitting seamlessly into the series, White Raven to me represents a step up for the series and shows that the Oathsworn saga has legs for more tales yet without losing any freshness, even merely in the tying up of loose ends. It’s a bravo! opus, this one.

4. THE PROW BEAST

By now the Oathsworn have achieved fame (and/or infamy) across the whole Viking world and the long-suffering and reluctant Orm finds himself and the Oathsworn once more ripped from an attempt at settling and thrown into the action. Orm finds himself responsible for the protection of a queen bearing the unborn heir to the throne of Sweden, only to have an old enemy reappear and ravage and burn his lands, ship and hall, forcing the surviving Oathsworn and their charges and women up into the hills. Soon, though, they are set upon a duel quest to retrieve the young man given to Orm’s foster care by his own Jarl, Brand, and to put an end to that loathesome enemy that has caused all these fresh troubles. This quest will take them away from the sea once more, marching south across eastern Europe, up a dangerous river, rather ‘heart of darkness’ style, not at all sure that they are strong enough to survive it, let alone achieve their goals at the end of it. The Prow Beast is, for me, the bleakest of the Oathsworn books and, while just as well written and absorbing as its predecessors, I found it a little harder to read because of the unremitting unpleasantness of the plot and the Oathsworn’s position. The light that shines in this darkness, though, is once more the inclusion of the excellent Crowbone character. A strong read, if bleak, and a perfect continuation of the series.

5. CROWBONE

And so we come to the (currently) last book in the series. Crowbone is something of a departure for Rob’s Oathsworn. While officially the 5th book in the series, it feels more like the first book in a new series that is perhaps a spin-off, or a sequel series? Not only does this book focus (as the title suggests) on Crowbone, with Orm as more of a supporting character, it is also written in the third person instead of the first, which gives it a very different feel. To be honest, it makes it a much easier and powerful read, if it perhaps loses a fraction of the depth of feeling that the others had. Having read that sentence back, it looks to me as though I’m criticising it or putting it down in some way. I’m not. Quite simply, Crowbone is now my favourite Oathsworn book. It grabs the reader by the eyeballs and drags them headlong through the action. This novel focuses on prince Olaf of Norway (aka Crowbone) who is now grown to young manhood and seeks the axe of Eirik Bloodaxe to affirm his right to the throne currently occupied by a usurper. Crowbone is one of the Oathsworn, but now, the older, wiser and very self-assured Orm places the young man in command of a ship of his own and sends him off on a quest for the axe. The action here continually switches between three groups all on the same quest and racing for the prize: The Oathsworn of Prince Crowbone, the crew of another would-be-King of Norway – the dispossessed son of Eirik Bloodaxe, and a group of killers accompanying the Oathsworn’s oldest antagonist – the despicable priest Martin of Hammaburg. Yes, there are three crews belting around the Baltic, the North Sea and the Irish sea this time, visiting Ireland, Mann, Orkney, the coast of Continental Europe and finally into Arctic Finland. And in between, we are occasionally treated to scenes of Orm and his men. This is both a race to a prize and a coming-of-age story for young Crowbone, who is driven to depths that actually distressed me a little and made me dislike the man at times. Crowbone maintains the power and the authenticity of the first four Oathsworn books, but throws in new elements and a fresh, ‘headlong rush’ feel. It is at the same time a wonderful continuation and a bright departure. It is simply a great read.

* * *

And now for a few more notes on the series as a whole:

 

Characters. There is a high body count in this series. It is wise not to get too attached to any crewmember. It’s been a while since I read the earlier books, but a few characters still stand out, such as Einar and particularly Gunnar Raudi. But as the series develops, even ignoring Orm and Crowbone, there are some truly awesome characters that fill the rowing places of the Fjord Elk. Red Njal will always be a favourite character, as will Finn and his sword, The Godi. The supporting cast changes often and die with astonishing regularity, but there are always strong characters in there, and you will doubtless find a few favourites, as I did.

Watch out! If you are of a nervous disposition, you might want to skip the series. The Oathsworn books are truly violent and pull no punches in terms of gore, the unseemly activities of sea raiders and even their language. That’s just my stock warning. This lack of pulling punches is part of what gives the series its power and feeling of authenticity. If you’re happy to read about axes in heads, the rapine of seafaring peoples and lines like ‘Row, f**k your mothers!’ then read on and enjoy. I did.

Just like the rolling supporting cast, over five books the series develops a number of villains, some of whom are brief, while others are a continual thorn in Orm’s side. To be honest, somewhere in the middle of the series there were beginning to be enough of them that I had to concentrate a bit to remember who was who when the bad guys came burning, kidnapping and causing trouble. But the most important ones stand out as loathesome and despicable, and you’ll get to exercise your ‘hate muscle’ a little. Mind you, given the normal life and activities of the Viking raiding party, you might occasionally wonder whether the good guys are actually any better than their enemies. After all, they’re all just people really. The greying of morals is again part of what gives the books their feeling of authenticity.

The Fjord Elk. Get ready for the Oathsworn’s ship. You remember the USS Enterprise? How many times have Kirk or Picard blown it up or crashed it? And yet there’s always a new Enterprise to be built and christened, flown into danger and then blown up again? Then you’ll be right at home. The Fjord Elk is a name, not a ship. It gets passed on with every new vessel that bears Orm’s prow beast. The Oathsworn’s ships have a terrible habit of being burned, sunk or otherwise wrecked.

Right. I think that about covers it. What a long impromptu post. If I’ve not persuaded you to try the Oathsworn, then I bow to your resistance. Orm and Crowbone’s adventures deserve your attention. Give them a read, I urge you.

And now, back to some writing of my own.