Thursday, December 3, 2015

“Fin Gall” – A Viking Adventure in Ireland

For months I’ve been meaning to post my review of Fin Gall by James L. Nelson. Guest reviewer Bill Brockman first reviewed the book here. My take follows this image of the book’s cover.

Fin Gall turned out to be a wonderful surprise. I was expecting a book focused on Vikings, but Nelson’s novel is as much about the Irish as it is the Norse and Danes. Set in the mid-ninth century, the tale unfolds from the viewpoints of multiple characters, both Viking and Irish, and I think the novel is richer because of it.

The central plot concerns the Crown of the Three Kingdoms, a magical device “forged even before the true faith came to Ireland by some long forgotten druids.” The crown has the power to bring together the warring Irish kings, who, if united, can dispel the Northmen from Ireland’s shores. As one of the main Irish characters puts it, the “future of Ireland rests with the crown.”

The book begins when a Norse longship attacks the Irish vessel that is secretly ferrying the crown to the Irish king of Tara. One of the Norsemen is Thorgrim Ulfsson (aka Thorgrim Night Wolf), the novel’s primary protagonist and a seasoned Viking warrior whose dreams warn him of the dangers of possessing the crown. So, Thorgrim buries it like pirates’ gold, setting up a treasure hunt that will dominate much of the novel.

In short time, Thorgrim and his crew of Norsemen (“fin gall” in Irish) encounter the first of several factions seeking the crown, the Danes (aka “dubh gall”) who rule the Viking settlement of Dubh-Linn. There we meet a trio of Danes who serve as antagonists in the tale: the Danish ruler Orm, his treacherous hirdman Magnus, and his craven and conniving henchman Asbjorn the Fat. But we also encounter Morrigan, a beautiful and cunning Irish spy posing as a one of Orm’s thralls.

After being captured by the Danes, Thorgrim and his crewmen soon find themselves trapped between these two fictions: the Danes who want the crown for themselves, and the Irish who want to use it to unite the Irish kingdoms. Once the Norsemen escape from Dubh-Linn, the adventure kicks into high gear. The action scenes are wonderfully written, the treachery is thick, and the plot rollicks along with turns and twists.

Amid all the adventure, there is a love story or two. Thorgrim finds himself drawn to the beautiful Morrigan, while his fifteen-year-old son, Harald, falls for Brigit, the Irish king’s daughter. Harald and Brigit’s story alone would make the book an enjoyable read. Yet instead it’s only one of many plotlines that Nelson weaves into the larger tale, making the entire story feel more epic in scope. If you’re at all interested in the Vikings in Ireland, and fun medieval adventures, Fin Gall will be well worth the read!


Benjamin Thomas said...

James L. Nelson is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction. I wish more people were aware of his works, both fictional as well as his nonfiction books.

Joseph Finley said...

Agreed, Benjamin - thanks for the comment!

Bill said...

Good review, Joe.

Joseph Finley said...

Thanks, but it's not as good as the original!