Here’s another of my Historical Novel Society reviews – this one all about the Vikings and drowning, which seems to be a thing in publishing lately, for some odd reason.
The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker. Harper Little Brown, 2017. ISBN 9780062563699; $27.99, Hardback.
It is 9th-century Norway, and the Vikings are sailing, raiding, battling, and attending the gathering of peoples known as the Thing. Ragnvald Eysteinsson, a young warrior, finds himself betrayed by the very men he fought alongside, and left to drown in the cold waves of the Viking seas. His sister, Svanhild, faces challenges of her own back home, where she must navigate the social waters of suitors. The mercurial Solvi juggles political alliances and personal attachments deftly, and the warrior Harald of Vestfold—King Harald—comes to claim the loyalty of Ragnvald in a move that will change the course of each character’s lives.
A first novel, this title is also the first book of a trilogy. The author can trace her own lineage back to King Harald and, inspired by this family history, she has studied Norse history and literature for many years. Her attention to detail is the most enjoyable aspect of this book, which does an excellent job of evoking a vibrant society from years past. The opening scene, which finds young Ragnvald dancing across the oars while his ship sails, is evocative, dreamlike, and overwritten. The rest of the book follows this pattern.
This is the kind of book to sink into and enjoy for its beauty and atmosphere, not the kind to read for thrilling adventures or a complicated plot. The characters spend a lot of time debating things in their heads, and this trait serves to slow the narrative. However, if you are patient and in the mood for a period piece that brings to life a bygone era, you may find this volume satisfying reading.