Thursday, January 15, 2015

To Miklagard the Vikings Go in “Odin’s Wolves,” Book 3 of the “Raven” Trilogy!

To kick off the New Year, guest reviewer Bill Brockman has reviewed Odin’s Wolves by Giles Kristian, and it looks to be another fantastic Viking tale. 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 follows this image of the book’s cover.

Odin’s Wolves is the third and final volume of a trilogy, but may not be the final word in the story of “Raven”, the young Wessexman taken and adopted by Jarl Sigurd and his Viking raiders in the first volume, Blood Eye. I have already reviewed Blood Eye and Sons of Thunder (2nd volume) on Fresh-scraped Vellum (you can read it here and here).

Author Giles Kristian claims Viking ancestry in the author’s note and although he never uses the term Viking (he explains in an historical note to the first volume), there is no doubt who the primary characters are – Norsemen or “Vikings from Norway.” The narrator is a teenage orphan boy who had been named Osric by the villagers of Abbotsend in Wessex in the year 802. He has no real memory of his life before and had been shunned and feared by the other villagers due to his “bloodeye” (one of his eyes is red instead of white). In this third volume he has long left his past behind and become a proud member of the “Wolfpack” of Jarl Sigurd, blooded in battle both in Britain and France.

A motley and enlarged Wolfpack it is, too. In Sons of Thunder, the Norsemen who made up the original band had already been joined by Raven; several Wessexmen led by fierce warrior Penda; a Christian priest named Father Egfrith; and Raven’s love Cynethryth - daughter of the treacherous Wessex Ealdorman Ealdred, who was killed in Sons of Thunder. During that adventure in France, a forlorn group of Danes had been rescued following their imprisonment – along with Raven – by Emperor Karolus (Charlemagne). At the end of that book, we see the two Norse and two Dane longships barely escape from the pursuing Franks by the expedient of leaving behind their fortune of silver to distract the pursuers. This stratagem of Raven’s, although successful, does not endear him to the Vikings and they constantly remind him of their loss. The Danes are weak from starvation and nearly unarmed, but seem a hearty lot and Jarl Sigurd doesn't have it in him to abandon them. Thus the Wolfpack of Sigurd grows.

The solution to their poverty? Well, of course they decide to travel to Miklagard, the Great City!  Also known as Constantinople and today called Istanbul, this city is said to be made of gold, just the thing for “silver-light” Vikings.

Sailing along the coast, as ships nearly always did in those early years before better navigation methods became known, the Wolfpack spend weeks either sailing or rowing as the wind allows, beaching each night. Cynethryth has become a very different woman from the daughter of a prosperous Ealdorman that we met in Raven. Her ordeal at the hand of French nuns has forever darkened her outlook and she falls deeper and deeper into the orbit of the Godi (Norse priest) Asgot. She has little to do with a confused and dismayed Raven. Will she return to the normal world, or be lost into the darker side of the Norse religion? Only time will tell.

Along the journey, the Wolfpack will come into contact with Moors in the Emirate of Cordova (Spain); deal with Moorish pirates in the Mediterranean; visit a fallen Rome, and come into contact with all sorts of characters. The time in Rome, which is a nearly ruined shadow of its former glory, is eventful in several ways. Still populous, the city has lately been in an uproar. There has even been a return of gladiatorial contests to the Amphitheater! Being fierce Viking warriors, these Wolfpack will find a way to enter these contests once a substantial prize is offered by the mysterious Greek who sponsors them.

Their journey to Miklagard will take the nature of a quest to restore and Emperor to the throne, and perhaps lead to the riches Viking always crave. Will Raven and the Wolfpack survive? Will Cynethryth and Raven reconcile? Odin’s Wolves is a welcome and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, which leaves open the possibility of future adventures. Raven has matured, become wiser and less naive about life and death. His ties with the Wolfpack are tested almost to the breaking point and at times he even wonders if Jarl Sigurd still supports him. Without any more spoilers, you’ll have to read Odin’s Wolves to find out.

Thanks, Bill, for the review. I just started Blood Eye this month, and it looks like there’s a great third book to look forward to in this series!


Bill said...

Lest anyone think Vikings in Constantinople unlikely, it is historical. Some went the long way like the Wolfpack, while others traveled through Russia on the great rivers. The Byzantine Emperor had a Varangian Guard made of of Norsemen.

Joseph Finley said...

Indeed, Bill. For anyone who hasn't read "Byzantium" by Stephen Lawhead (about an Irish monk captured by Vikings), a good third of the book takes place in Constantinople. (I reviewed "Byzantium" in October of 2011; you can read it in the Blog Archive in the right hand column.) And, rumor has it, there may even be a member of the Varangian Guard featured in the sequel to "Enoch's Device"!

Bill said...

Spoiler alert!

Looking forward to reading it.

Joseph Finley said...

If only I can just finish it . . .