Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blood Eye – A Fierce Viking Tale

This week, I’m pleased to feature another review by Bill Brockman, this time of Blood Eye by Giles Kristian, Book 1 of his Raven Trilogy. For those new to this blog, Bill is an avid reader of historical fiction, but he’s also devoted his life to public service as a Battalion Chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and a 31-year part-time airman in the Air National Guard. His review of Blood Eye follows this image of the book’s cover.

Blood Eye is the first volume of a trilogy, just discovered by your reviewer, which is already complete. Let me begin my review by saying I intend to read the next volume without hesitation. Vikings are hugely popular right now, so let’s have a look at this offering.

Kristian never uses the term Viking (he explains in an historical note), but there is no doubt who the primary characters are – Norsemen or “Vikings from Norway.” We meet the narrator, a teenage boy who knows nothing of his past and who dreams of “great rock walls rising so high from the sea that the sun’s warmth never hit the cold black water.” Named Osric by the villagers, he is apprenticed to a tongueless (explained later) carpenter in a dirt poor village on the south coast of Wessex – Abbotsend – in the year 802. Shunned and feared by the other villagers due to his “bloodeye” whereby one of his eyes is red instead of white, Osric is not at all happy. The local priest considers his bloodeye a sign of Satanic origins.

Osric’s unhappy life is forever changed the morning his dawn fishing trip to the shore is interrupted by the arrival of two dragon ships full of fierce warriors – Norsemen led by Jarl Sigurd. Amazingly Osric realizes he can both understand and speak the language of the invaders. This skill both saves his life and is used by the Norse as they force him to show them to the village. He does so, feeling the guilt of a traitor. After an initial tense standoff with the villagers, led by retired warrior Griffin, a trading agreement is reached and all is well for a day. However, the priest Wulfweard, hating the pagan Norsemen, plots to poison the Jarl Sigurd. Warning Sigurd, Osric precipitates a massacre and his own abduction by the Norse, along with his master, the mute carpenter Ealhstan.

Thus begins an amazing journey of growth and change for the boy, soon to be renamed Raven by Jarl Sigurd. He comes to think of himself as one of the Norsemen, despite fierce resistance from certain factions of the crew, led by the godi (pagan priest) Asgot who wants to sacrifice the two Wessexmen to the gods. But Sigurd sees his own lost son in young Raven, and protects him as they first encounter Ealdorman Ealdred in fierce combat, then in uneasy alliance. The Norsemen are recruited – their dragon ships held hostage – to recover a priceless artifact from the King of Mercia, Coenwulf. (Note, King Coenwulf and King Egbert of Wessex are historical figures, as is Coenwulf’s predecessor Offa.)

Stereotypes are inevitable in this type of historical fiction, and indeed appear in this work. Author Kristian also doesn’t shy away from fully developing the hatred and contempt with which Christian Wessexmen and pagan Norsemen held each other. This, of course, leads to frequent horrific violence against warrior and innocent alike.

Fierce battles, along with trickery, treachery and betrayal on all sides (and some friendship and romance too) follow as Raven and the Norse travel first to King Coenwulf’s hall, then journey into Wales and back to Wessex in an attempt to regain their dragon ships. The Norsemen’s almost supernatural – and at times this strains believability – skill in battle preserve them on more than one occasion. But how often can they overcome near overwhelming odds to fulfill the treasure quest and regain their beloved dragon ships?

Thanks, Bill, for the great review. I’ll be turning my own writing efforts back to Vikings soon, and Blood Eye sounds like it will provide a healthy dose of inspiration. I’ve picked up a copy on my Kindle and hope to read it soon!


Bill said...

Thanks for the kind words, Joe. I am quickly learning that there are more historical novels on Vikings than I can keep up with. Anything that can help separate the wheat from the chaff is helpful - such as your blog.

Joseph Finley said...

Bill, I appreciate your review, and all of your help with the blog! Anytime.