Monday, February 26, 2018

The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

When Ragnvald Eysteinsson returns with his crewmates from a season of raiding, the Norwegian expects to return home to claim his father's land from his stepfather now that he has reached his majority and to marry Hilda from a neighboring farm.  Instead, he is betrayed by the captain of his ship, Solvi, cut by his sword and pushed overboard.  As the ship disappears, Ragnvald tries to reach shore but soon finds himself drowning.  As he slips under the water, he has a vision of a great golden wolf that he must follow.  He regains the surface and is rescued by a fisherman.

Returning home, he realises that Olaf, his stepfather, has no intention of turning his land over and that in fact, he has probably been behind the treachery Ragnvald has encountered.  After trying and failing to best Olaf in the annual court, he falls in with soldiers and is soon in the court of King Hakor.  He knows Hakor's bastard son, Oddi, who brings him to Hakor's attention.  Known for his wisdom and fairness, he becomes an advisor and is sent to accompany Hakor's sons to the camp of a contender to unite all of Norway.  This is Harald, just a boy but already a feared warrior.  His goal is to unite all of Norway under his rule.  Could he be the golden wolf Ragnvald is to follow?

In the meantime, Solvi heads up the opposition.  Even more galling, he has taken Ragnvald's sister, Svanhild, as his wife.  Everything Ragnvald has done has been done with the thought of protecting his sister and to find her now the wife of his greatest enemy is almost more than he can bear.  As events move toward a climatic battle between the two forces, Ragnvald's destiny as well as that of Norway will be decided.

This novel is a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Vikings.  Long glorified in fantasy, this story shows the short, brutal lives of many in the culture and how alliances and betrayals were the stuff of daily life.  Along the way to showing how Norway became a united country, it narrates the daily lives of these people.  This is Linnea Hartsuyker's debut novel and she has exploded onto the historical literature genre.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers and anyone interested in a fascinating story.

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