Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Viking Fire by Justin Hill

Viking FireViking Fire by Justin Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Harald Hardrada is one of my FAVOURITE Viking Kings EVER! I have read both fictional & non-fiction books on his epic journey from zero to hero but I will confess Justin Hill's 2nd novel which focuses on this giant of Norse history, is the first that has made me fall deeply in love with him. Almost as much as I fell in love with King Cnut in Helen Hollick's Hollow Crown.
Harald's is a story that involves him facing and overcoming challenge after challenge and shaping him to be the great Norwegian King, as great as the tales tell him to be.
My favourite part of the entire book has to be when Harald reaches Miklagard, the Great City, Constantinople (Istanbul) - the city, society, landscapes, people and of course the very treacherous politics was superbly captured and brought alive on the page. There is one particular and relatively minor conflict Harald gets embroiled in as he serves amongst the Emperor's armies, involving one of the men of the many crews he now commands, and the choices he makes in that event is the strongest indicator of the kind of leader and ultimately King Harald will mature to be. I won't give away too much detail about the situation but it is a clear & firm demonstration that Harald is a man worthy of following and more evidence of why so many did.
There are of course lots of more everyday scenes involving Harald that better define his character and personality, be it with his crew, his mistress or wives, with his children or even when he is talking to a General or an Emperor. Each of these scenes is distinctive and sometimes emotionally touching. I have laughed with Harald, cried with Harald, cheered with Harald, even yelled in anger or shock with Harald. You really do get under the skin, into the blood and dive in his soul as you read each chapter.
Within each chapter I found there was at least 1 line I read that would stick in my head for hours after I had put the book down (which was only ever when I was working I must admit). I found so many literary gems amongst the prose that I started adding them to my own personal list of favourites and it grew and grew as I read the book. I won't list them all as they might hint at spoilers for new readers but I will mention the first line that I was struck by. It was when Harald was with his brother, King Olaf's army, waiting to face the rebellion forces. Harald remarked to himself that Death is like going to sleep, it's living that hurts. If you hurt you know you are alive. Or something like that, to that affect at least. Having recently, in the past year, encountered death through my father, and having had morbid thoughts about what dying is actually like, this one line made a lot of sense to me and I could see how that would bring some comfort & strength to a young warrior facing his first fierce battle. It also showed that this was a Viking who due to his Christian upbringing at least, was considering more than just what kind of afterlife he might have in heaven, he was actually contemplating how he transforms from earth to heaven through death. It is a small yet significant way of reminding the reader that at the end of the day, despite his momentous life & impact on history forever, Harald was still a human being, like ourselves, who will consider his own existence and the sad and often scary fact that we all die in the end. Albeit in Harald's time death & dying was more common and more visible than it is in the 21st century.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it's beautiful and masterful telling of Harald's life. Highly recommend to fans of Vikings, 1066, or just Historical Fiction in general.

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Becky Bookworm Book Review: Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson (Valhalla Saga Book 3)

Path of Gods (The Valhalla Saga, #3)Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely bloody brilliant! Great characters, superb action, amazing battles and sparkling dialogue. Combined with a cleverly and well crafted plot that is full of surprises and a good dash of humour. A fine and fitting end for all involved, some remarkable plot twists that neatly bring the characters and storyline full circle with great storytelling. This final book was packed full of Norse mythical references and I was especially impressed with the introduction of a horror element to the magic used. It didn't revert to stereotype and still maintained a strong Nordic influence and style to its approach and indeed how the heroes and companions fought against this new and increasing threat.
Overall this trilogy is a masterful retelling of the raise of King Olaf and his blood-coated mission to make the Danes Christian and Snorri has cleverly captured the religious conflict of the time and presented it in a manner that really does remind the reader why the Vikings held firm to their belief in the Aesir and the Old Ways for no great heroes have ever truly emerged from Christian trials and adventures, only in the ways of the North are true heroes forged, their tales becoming legend.

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Becky Bookworm Book Review: Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson (Valhalla Saga 2)

Blood Will FollowBlood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although I felt a bit lost to begin with having returned to this story a good while since reading the first book I did reconnect with the trio of main characters quickly. They each got their own journey full of adventure, magic and bloodshed and like the triple knot Valknut Snorri weaves their three storylines cleverly throughout the book and tying it all fluidly and smoothly together at the end in quite a dramatic and tense clash. I was particularly impressed with how well and almost naturally Snorri introduced two of the old god characters into the story, often without naming them directly but reflecting and honouring traits, omens and symbols that make each unique and individual.
Snorri's writing is quite steady in terms of pace and he shows great skill and talent in creating drama without relying on the a-typical fight scenes. Some of my favourites scenes have simply involved evocative and simple descriptions, scenery, dialogue and characters body language.
Will definitely be ordering the final book in this really enjoyable saga.

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: The Death of Robin Hood by Angus Donald (Outlaw Chronicles Book 8)

What can I say about this final heroic adventure with a legendary man so many have come to love? I will do my best to give away no spoilers here...

Firstly there is a strong theme of Division running through this last adventure. England has become fractured by civil war over the Magna Carter and King John's lack of acknowledgement of it. So the Royalists and the Rebels once again start fighting over lands & castles. But into this mix steps King Louis and his invading French army to support the Rebels in exchange for the throne. Thus the civil war is now a war of conquest and through siege and battle Robin & Alan & Co find themselves changing sides to match their loyalty to the English Kingdom rather than the King.
There are of course many superb nail-biting, heart-stopping and dramatic and dangerous experiences of the war both as victors and losers through these turbulent years.
Yet as mentioned before Division can exist at any and all levels - not just loyalty - division can be caused by love & hate, oaths sworn and lies told, anger & jealousy, rank and by blood.
So it is amongst a world fractured and shattered both within the band of brothers & companions through to the very fate of the English Throne that creates the turmoil that leads to a shocking last turn of the page for our brave heroes.
It was a true joy to read word for word paragraph and page. It made me laugh, cheer, boo, hiss, gasp, and cry out the words "oh god no". It made me happy, disgusted, proud, sad and by the end heartbroken.
The tag line on the end of the book sums it all up really - and if you have read all of the adventures and this one you will understand - "Heroes fall. Legends live forever."
Angus Donald has indeed re-forged this legend and character into a burning brand that will be burnt into the minds and souls of many readers. A mark of loyalty to his stories that will never fade. A mark that all readers of this series will proudly bare.

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