out of 5
Review by Doreen
My best friend loves this author. I'd never read anything by him, but a back cover blurb that compares this novel favorably to Stephen King and Shakespeare doesn't exactly make the strongest case for me (I have idiosyncratic tastes, I know.) Regardless, I took my time with the book, wanting to make sure I was fully engaging it, to find in it what my best friend, whose opinion I respect, sees. It troubled me somewhat that it was slow-going -- it's been noted that I tear through books at a very brisk clip -- and even given that I was savoring the novel, I was a bit surprised at the slow pacing of the book. A lot of stuff happens, but I never at any point felt invested, as if I had to know more. And there was something else that bothered me, though it took me the entirety of the book to figure out what: the women are all too certain. They are too wise and too restrained and too accepting of their fates, and even though this was the lot of women of those societies, it did not read well for me. They felt more like convenient plot contrivances than actual people. To be honest, I felt little more empathy for the men. I found Bern's horseback battle on the surf somewhat thrilling, and Thorkell's combat at the end was affecting, but little else aroused my interest (though the revelation of the true nature of the spruagh was nicely done.)
And then I understood the real problem I had with this book: it's written in a manner that strongly evokes the structure of classical texts. Too bad I have little patience for such. Beowulf bores me, and the rest of the lays are even more tiresome. Give me the blood and fury of the Greeks and Romans any day, with their understandable passions: the coldness of the North chills my blood. I enjoyed Mr Kay's meditations on fate and the bonds of family and love, but I found his characters as interesting as the roll of names in your typical classical saga. I have a feeling that this isn't the book to judge this author on, though (e.g. with Neal Stephenson: if I'd read the dreadful Cryptonomicon first, I would never have bothered reading the utterly dazzling The Diamond Age, one of my favorite books.)
So, on the whole, a worthy read, but not for the human emotion, and certainly not for any excitement. It kinda made me want to re-read Sutcliffe's The Eagle Of The Ninth, with its own complicated tale of a son seeking to redeem his father's name.