Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker, a terrific historical epic of 9th-century Norway

In mid-ninth-century Norway, power was dispersed among many petty kingdoms, while sea-kings gained wealth and status through plunder. Chronicling the time that saw Harald Fairhair’s rise as eventual king of a united Norway, Hartsuyker’s terrific historical epic, first in a projected trilogy, beautifully evokes the period and the mind-set of its warring peoples.

After his stepfather’s attempt on his life fails, Ragnvald Eysteinsson pursues revenge and a plan to regain his hereditary lands while finding his place amid the Norse kings’ shifting alliances and blood feuds. Meanwhile, his teenage sister, Svanhild, too strong-minded to be a peace-weaver bride, moves through challenging emotional territory after evading an unwanted marriage.

Posing thoughtful questions about the nature of honor and heroism, and devoting significant attention to women’s lives, the novel takes a fresh approach to the Viking-adventure genre. Hartsuyker also shows how the glorious deeds in skaldic songs can differ from their subjects’ lived experiences.

The multifaceted characters are believable products of their era yet relatable to modern readers; the rugged beauty of Norway’s farmlands and coastal landscapes likewise comes alive. The language is clear and eloquent, and the action scenes will have the blood humming in your veins. This is how tales from the old sagas should be told.

The Half-Drowned King will be published by Harper in August; the (starred) review above appears in Booklist's June 1 and 15 issue.  I read this ARC in February and have been eager to share the review of this book, which is among the best I've read this year.  Historical adventure novels aren't always my thing, but this one has me anxiously anticipating the second and third installments. And it was a story I hadn't previously known; even better.

The UK publisher is Little Brown, which gave it a cover design that strongly resembles those for Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings saga (check out the images and you'll see what I mean).

6 comments:

  1. This sounds fantastic! This is a time period and setting that I feel I don't get to seem much of, so I might just have to go ahead and pre-order this one or make sure my library gets hold of a copy! Thanks for the great review. :)

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    1. Hope you can get your hands on it at some point! The time period has a lot going for it, which makes me wonder why the story hasn't been told in fiction before (in English, that is, that I know of).

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  2. My husband's DNA shows some unexpected Scandinavian heritage, so we'll read this one together when we can get two copies. Sounds great - thanks for the review!

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    1. I've wanted to get a DNA test from Ancestry at some point but haven't yet. That must have been a fun discovery!

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  3. This sounds great, Sarah! And very interesting about the cover art and similarity to Duron's covers: I always find cycles and similarities of cover art fascinating. That said, I love, love, love the Harper cover pictured best of all!

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    1. I really like the Harper cover, too.

      I guess they're aiming for a similar audience in the UK, although the Accursed Kings series is rather grim - not quite the same thing.

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