Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: Harald Hardrada: The Last Viking by Michael Burr

Harald Hardrada: The Last Viking by Michael Burr
historical fiction
publisher: Knox Robinson Publishing
Received from the publisher for an honest review
In the dead of night, a band of Vikings ravage a lonely convent on the Brittany coast –and their fearsome leader makes a decision that will eventually lead to his downfall. Ranulf de Lannion is fifteen years old. Crippled, deformed and abandoned by his family to the charity of the convent, he is seized by the Vikings during a midnight raid. Contemptuously nicknamed 'The Scraeling" by his captors, his future appears grim. Harald Sigurdsson, or 'Hardrada' as he will come to be known, is the leader of the Viking band. A violent mercenary with designs on the throne of Norway, Hardrada abducts The Scraeling on a whim. Ranulf grows into an invaluable asset, smoothing Hardrada's path over their thirty-five years together from mercenary to commander of the Varangian Guard, all the way to king of Norway. But all is not as it seems in the heart of Ranulf de Lannion. Having sworn secret revenge upon Hardrada for the murders at the convent, he vows to end the day of the Viking forever. When the king of Norway launches an attack against the Anglo-Saxon throne of England in 1066, what role will The Scraeling play in bringing the age of the Viking to an end?
I found the historical aspect of this book quite fascinating, as I know little of the Viking period. I'd heard of their reputations of ruthlessness and skilled warriors, and this certainly did not lack any of those episodes. The story is told through the eyes of The Scraeling. His voice is the first we hear, and his declaration in the prologue that really hooked me into the story. The reader is quickly inserted into the account of how The Scraeling came to be serving Harald Hardrada, in the account of the viking's violent pillaging of the convent where he lived. The episode is described in detail, and for any who find it hard reading violent episodes, including rape, will likely have difficulties getting past the story of how The Scraeling came to be a trusted secretary. However, this was one of the most, if not the most violent episode depicted in the novel, so if you can get through it, you are in for an interesting read. Harald traveled greatly, working as a mercenary for his kin in Kiev and for Empress Zoe of Constantinople. The reader also gets treated to excerpts of the Heimskringla, the famous Norse saga, during the section breaks.

My biggest criticism was the use of some modern sounding slang terms. These are terms in use today, and having them in a story in the time before William the Bastard claimed the English throne to become William the Conqueror made what seemed like a jarring contrast to the more period sounding voice of the rest of the novel. More authentic sounding terms would have maintained the mood better throughout the book. However, I found most of slang seemed to centered around the attack on the convent at the start, and later in Harald's relations with Empress Zoe. Once I realized that most of that sort of language was past, I was left to enjoy Scraeling's schemeings. The story gets told between the first person, where Scraeling is validating or commenting on the events well after they happened, then in the third person depicting the events as it happened. I found this to be effective, and gave the feeling of reading the memoirs of Scraeling.

I found it to be an interesting read, and if not for the language issue, I would have given it a full four stars

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