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Posts Tagged ‘norse

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

The Terror – Giles Kristian

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the-terror-by-giles-kristian

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

Raven Saga

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*Reposted to replace lost posts from 2012*

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I was doubly surprised by Raven. I bought it, in all fairness, because I’d spoken to Giles on twitter – he’s a really nice fella – and it had a cool cover. There. Admission of guilt.

I’ve got 3 viking sagas sat in my bookshelves, all unread, because I obsess over the Roman era and I have trouble with Viking culture, because I’ve always thought they didn’t have one. So it took me a long time to get around to braving Raven. So that was my first stumbling block: not been keen to launch into viking tales.

Moreover, opening the book, I discovered that it’s written in first person perspective. I’m not a lover of such. I find that I can read most genres and even novels that are hard work if they’re in 3rd person, but they have to be exceptional for me to bother in first person. Stumbling block 2.

I started reading Raven, teeth gritted against the perspective, expectations of cultural interest low, but knowing that the author is an articulate, intelligent and pleasant man. Thus I persevered… until page 2.

As soon as I turned the page it was no longer a matter of perseverance. I was quite simply hooked. All my expectations, worries and niggling doubts vanished and by the 2nd chapter I was rethinking my attitude to the viking era in general. You see, though I had little interest in the whole Viking thing, it turns out that I love them, but had forgotten it, locking it away deep inside with a label saying: to be opened when you’re busy arrogantly pigeon-holing things. Suddenly I remembered Kirk Douglas as Einar in the Vikings. Suddenly I was remembering Asterix and the Normans. Suddenly I was back by the campfire in the Thirteenth Warrior, listening to the twelve norsemen boast. It turns out that I was blinkering myself.

Raven is an engrossing story, surprisingly taking place mostly on land, despite the longboats in early play. As much of the tale revolves around their Saxon victims/allies/acquaintances in Britain as it does around the norsemen. Raven himself is a fascinating character, built in many layers and continuing to acquire them as the story progresses. The other characters are equally strong: Sigurd the great Jarl, Olaf the second in command, Black Floki (my personal fave) and a cast of many glittering folk. There are twists, magnificent actions sequences that will have you shouting for the brotherhood, gruesome scenes of torture and murder, rousing heroic moments, betrayals, love interest… in short everything you could want from the book.

Along with Angus Donald’s Outlaw series, this is one of few series in 1st person perspective that is not only readable, but simply magnificent.

I am currently halfway through the sequel now and finding it every bit as good as the first. In short, Raven was an attitude changing book for me and has opened up a new genre entirely as readable.

Buy Raven and you’ll want to read the others.

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I so enjoyed the first Raven book that I wasted little time launching into the second. It started just as I expected, launching into a continuation of the story from Blood Eye, with just as much ‘oomph’. I was hooked.

However, Sons of Thunder is a different novel. Not what I expected and certainly not just a continuation of the story, though it does do that admirably too.

The first book had been a rip-roaring constant barrage of action and battle, heroics and betrayal, sneak attacks and audacious plans. Sons of Thunder built for only a couple of chapters on the same theme before sweeping all the plans from the table with surprise actions and decisions by the principal characters.

Suddenly I found I was reading more of an epic journey than an action fest. The story slowed into a languid, highly atmospheric and often tense journey, bringing the reader into an intimate understanding of what life would be like among the brotherhood of Sword-Norse aboard their dragon ships. I will say straight away that this was a surprise direction as far as I was concerned for the story to take, though in no bad way. Indeed, it lent a new freshness and interest to the tale.

I did, however, wonder really where the tale was going to go. I found myself thinking ahead and trying to see how the story might pan out, never quite able to work it all out.

And then, again, somewhere around two thirds of the way through the book, the direction changed once more, and suddenly the pace was breakneck, every bit as exciting and action-packed as Blood Eye. Indeed, I would say that Giles packed into a third of this book as much excitement as there had been in the first novel of the series, an achievement for which I doff my cap to him.

The story leaps and turns and twists in so many unexpected ways that I find it hard to describe how much I enjoyed it, and it builds to the very end to a moment that will be a defining one in the saga for me; one of those ‘Lo, there do I see my father’ moments from 13th Warrior (thanks Giles). It sets up the third tale beautifully and makes it almost impossible to pause before launching into that book (which I have just done).

The characters continue to entertain and build, some departing their life in appropriate manners, other previous unknowns coming to the fore. Raven himself continues to become stronger and more sure, and my personal fave remains Floki.

The highlight of the book for me was (without spoilers) the manner in which the Norsemen reacted and adapted to what was, for them, a thoroughly alien environment. It was masterfully done.

Now: On with Odin’s Wolves…

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So now I have come to the end of the Raven saga and it leaves me feeling a little sad. Perhaps some time, after his new series has been fully aired, Giles might return and write another Raven story. I hope so.

Each of the Raven books has followed beautifully from its previous bedfellow and has progressed the general tale and the growth of Raven himself, but also each of the books has a very individual character and addresses different themes, issues and emotions.

Odin’s Wolves opens with the wolfpack already off the coast of Portugal on their way to the great city of Constantinople. The first third-to half of the books is to some extent a fascinating travellogue of the western Mediterranean as seen through a baffled Norseman’s eyes.

Indeed, approaching half way through the book, I wondered whether that was the form the book would take.

But then they reached Rome and the real plot truly kicked in and picked up pace. I won’t ruin the plot for you, but where the second Raven novel fitted all the action and adventure of the first into just the latter half of the second, this does the same, but even better, with a tight, well-defined, clever and believable plot, foreshadowing the creation one day of the infamous Varangian Guard.

As a Roman/Byzantine nut, it fascinated me and I couldn’t spot a thing out of place.

But despite everything: the ‘Das-Boot’ tension of the run through the Hellespont, the crumbling glory of Rome, the beauty of the Bucoleon palace (one of my favourite places I have ever walked), the fights, the tricks and the glory… the thing that strikes me most about Odin’s Wolves was the growth and changes in the characters, which were subtle, clever, and helped weave the plot. It was this that led me to conclude that Giles hit his perfect stride in this book. Given that, I cannot wait to read The Bleeding Land.

Bravo again. Odin’s Wolves is a masterpiece

Written by SJAT

May 11, 2012 at 9:24 am