Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"Swords of good men who are rather, dull!"
About a decade ago, there was a film released called The 13th Warrior which also, like this book, had a Viking/Fantasy theme. Based upon the writings of a real Caliph of Baghdad, Ahmad ib Fadlan - it was rather enjoyable. The tales of Beowulf weaved in, with the bowels of Hel being unleashed upon a small village in a relocation. Besieged on all sides to a unrelenting foe, it takes one man (a foreigner) to stem the tide. If you've read Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, then your know the jeist of the film. Herein lies the problem with Snorri Kristjansson's Swords Of Good Men, it's almost a exact replica, with name and location changes to the previously mentioned book and film. As you might have gathered, the novel is essentially a non-historically/fantasy themed book. I'm not sure the places mentioned in Snorri's novel actually existed - I'm only guessing, but I don't recognise any of the locations by name.
Essentially the first 200 pages are really about setting the tone, for what I felt, was a fairly solid read. There isn't much going on, other than the author attempting to flesh out his characters (of which there are MANY). The main character here is Ulfir, a 'nobel' Swede, sent with his cousin Gerri (by the King of the Swedes) to familiarize himself with the Viking-way. During his time, Ulfir gets bogged down in a lustful romance and politicking within the town of Stenvik. While Ulfir is having his fun, religion is changing, there is the White Christ as well as the old ways (Thor, Freya, Odin, Valhalla, etc) battling for provenance over Norway. King Olav is attempting to bring the North of the country under his banner and belief of Christianity. While in the South, the old ways hold sway. So there is disagreement amongst the populace, surprise!
I'm rather telling a 'story' here, but to cut out the guff, the town of Sternik finds itself besieged by true Vikings. With Ulfir locked in, along with the Chieftain Sven, Harold, a rather brutish chap and pig-farmers to boot, things get interesting - to a extent. The real problem with the novel is that for 340 pages, it really gets bogged down with too much talking and not enough doing! I'm interested to see, from the authors point of view, how a town during this time would interact with each other, but not for 220 pages. There's no action, there's no broads, there's no booze! This is a book about Vikings right? Hmm.
Here is a small list of main/middle characters; Ulfir, Gerri, Sven, Harald, Sigurd, Egil, Audun (who is rather a awesome persona!), Skargrim, Thora, Valgard, pig-farmers, Lilla, Sigmar, Thorvald, Prince Jorn, King Olav, Runir, Harvar, The Twenty, Ragnar, Oraekja, Finn. There is more, I've just grown tired of listing them. It's was a real chore for me, to cut through the characters - at times I felt the narrative wasn't descriptive at all. Just literally putting a name down on the page doesn't work, you need to really flesh out a persona for the reader to 'imagine' - well in my opinion anyway. I moaned to someone that the characters seemed 'dead' and there was no real likeable one - well other than Audun towards the end, but I won't spoil that.
The authors prose style is solid, no flares of brilliance sadly. For example, when the first attack on Stenvik takes place. Sven's rousing speech is rather amusing, it's meant to inspire seasoned warriors:
"We will strike fear into them, we are the nightmares that frighten children..."
Children? The protaganist (in this novel) isn't a anti-hero, he is meant to be a likeable rogue not the opposite. So why say something that doesn't fit the persona you are trying to build. For me it just didn't ring true. There were other lines that didn't sit right with me also. I should go back through the book and highlight them, but I just don't have the time, sorry about that.
The mystical element to the book comes from Slude, a sort of wisp/witch/not sure-thing. She can command men by touch and sense alone, no not jumping in bed for a bit of rumpy-pumpy (what even is that?). I really felt this element to the book didn't need to be there. I feel fairly strongly that the story itself would have held up better without this. It kind of rubbished, for me, all those mighty warriors at her command. Mind you, they say Agamemnon had the mightiest host of warriors ever, and it didn't work out to well for him. Given that, he didn't have some harpy with magical powers!
If I was sitting with the author right now, I'd say cut out the mystical element and come out with something more befitting the theme and tone of the era. Make sure your characteristics of your main character fits with the personality. I admire anyone who can piece together a novel, but for me, this was a fairly bad read and haphazard at best.
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