Wednesday, February 25, 2015

“Blood Eye” – My Take On A Fierce Viking Tale

As Season 3 of Vikings gets underway, it just so happens I’m immersing myself in Viking-related fiction. I just finished Blood Eye by Giles Kristian, a book about the Vikings in England that guest reviewer Bill Brockman introduced me to last year. A quote on the cover from Bernard Cornwell (who writes some of the best Viking fiction around) calls it “a powerful, lightning-paced tale.” I tend to agree, and my review follows this image of the book’s cover. 

Set in early ninth century England, Blood Eye is told from the viewpoint of Osric, a fifteen-year-old carpenter’s apprentice in the village of Abbotsend. It turns out Osric has a secret past, for the villagers found him left for dead near a burial mound with a pagan knife hanging around his neck. Unfortunately, he has no memory of his life before then. Even worse, his left eye is stained red instead of white, so the Christian priests believe he’s been touched by the devil. This makes his life less than blissful in Abbotsend, but everything changes the day two Viking longships arrive on shore.

The Vikings are led by Jarl Sigurd, who claims they are traders – while admitting that “sometimes they’re not.” In this instance, however, the Norseman have come in apparent peace, but that doesn’t stop the village priest from trying to kill them with poisoned mead. When Osric warns Sigurd about the treachery, the Vikings take their revenge, and take Osric with them. The good news is that Sigurd believes Osric’s “blood eye” is a blessing from Odin the All-father, so it’s no wonder that Osric soon prefers Sigurd and his men over the English who shunned him. 

Noble Vikings!
Sigurd gives Osric the name Raven, and the boy quickly finds he loves the Norseman and their way of life, which is precisely the theme of the novel. Put simply, this is a tale about Vikings told from a Viking perspective. They are portrayed as noble warriors, while the English priests and lords are a treacherous lot. Jarl Sigurd serves as the paragon of Norse courage and honor, and Raven grows to idolize the man. 

The story kicks into gear when a Wessex ealdorman offers Sigurd a fortune in silver to steal a Gospel book of Saint Jerome’s from the stronghold of the king of Merica. The Norseman are accompanied on this adventure by a fierce Wessexman named Mauger and an endearing priest named Father Egfrith, whom the author uses for frequent banter between the humorously judgmental cleric and the hell-bound “heathens” of Sigurd’s band. In Mercia, Raven helps save a young woman named Cynethryth, who serves as Raven’s love interest for the remainder of the tale. But this isn’t a romance story by any stretch. Rather, it’s a tale of battle and blood, and the fellowship Raven experiences with his new Viking family. 

The novel moves at a fast pace, from one thrilling battle scene to another, mixed with a few good twists and a whole lot a betrayal. The book ends in a way that sets up a perfect sequel, this time a Viking adventure in the empire of Charlemagne. Overall, I found Blood Eye to be a worthy read, and I look forward to the next book in the series.

By the way, for another take on Blood Eye, you can read Bill’s review here.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the book, Joe. I think you'll find the whole series entertaining.