Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Raven Saga by Giles Kristian

Preceeding all the hooplah of the series, "Vikings", was this trilogy by Giles Kristian. The story of a young man, taken as plunder when Norsemen attack his village, to metamorphysis into the warrior Raven. This is a period of history that holds great interest to me - I love the Viking Sagas, the journey of King Harald, of Egil, of Leif, and not to mention the heroic women. The historical re-creation of a time when the coastlines of what is now Ireland, Scotland and England, were subjected to the raiding of the Norse and the emergence of some larger than life characters is fascinating. And this is primary what drew me to book one, and the two subsequent tomes.

Book One - Raven - Blood Eye:
For two years Osric has lived a simple life, apprentice to the mute old carpenter who took him in when others would have him cast out. But when Norsemen from across the sea burn his village they also destroy his new life, and Osric finds himself a prisoner of these warriors. 

Immersed in the Norsemen's world and driven by their lust for adventure, Osric proves a natural warrior and forges a blood bond with Sigurd, who renames him Raven. When the Fellowship faces annihilation from Ealdorman Ealdred of Wessex, Raven chooses a bloody and dangerous path, accepting the mission of raiding deep into hostile lands to steal a holy book from Coenwolf, King of Mercia. There he will find much more than the Holy Gospels of St Jerome. And he will find betrayal at the hands of cruel men, some of whom he regarded as friends...

So, what did I think? I don't mind the first person narrative as we are immediately drawn to the character of Osric / Raven. The promises a tale of adventure, of battles, of plunder, of brotherhood, of betrayal - standard go-to plotline - young man captured, finds fidelity among the warriors, enter one bad guy hell bent on destroying the Fellowship, hero finds love and betrayal. But I found it a little flat - maybe it was just not the right time when I initially read this tale (2012), but looking back at my notes, I don't think so. Others have raved that Kristian is surely the heir-apparent to Bernard Cornwall - this really has no bearing on my review as I am not such a fan of Cornwall.

Book Two - Raven - Sons of Thunder:
Raven and his Wolfpack of Norsemen have been double crossed. The traitor Ealdred seeks to sell a holy book to the Emperor Charlemagne which will ensure riches beyond his wildest dreams. Greed drives him forward, but a band of fearsome warriors is in pursuit across the sea to Charlemagne's Frankish empire -- with the bloodiest of revenge on their minds.

Slaughter is certain as the Fellowship trap Ealdred and his men at the mouth of the river Sicauna in Frankia. Sigurd the Lucky challenges Ealdred's bodyguard Mauger in an ancient duel called the holmgang, and only one will walk away with his life. 

The continuing saga of the Viking Raven and his band of warrior brothers with the Fellowship on the trail of the evil Ealdred and pursue him to the lands of Charlemagne. This builds on book one, and I was pleased to say that the action and adventure picks up, and my reading interest was suitably maintained. The characters are finally developing, and the descriptive narrative of the journey is engaging. A much stronger outing with this book as Kristian has managed to capture the times (the good, the bad, the ugly) well. 

Book Three - Raven - Odin's Wolves:
Plunging through the living hell of Pope Leo’s shattered, perverted Rome, the dragon-faced ships of Sigurd the Lucky are manned by a strange and fearsome crew: among the Norsemen is Raven, a young man of uncertain parentage ...robbed of the woman he loves, destined to play a cunning role in the boldest of attacks. For the Vikings are on their way to glimmering Constantinople to put a deposed emperor back on his rightful throne—and claim the most magnificent prize of all. 

Travelling through Rome, the Fellowship is on its way to Constantinople. And here again I found the story a little bland, until the last when the action finally kicks in. I found the journey wasn't as fluid as in book two.

On another note, it is rather strange that after reading this series I found out that these stories fall in the latter stages in the life of Sigurd Haraldarson, and that there is a set of books dealing with his earlier story. I am pleased, in a strange way to hear this, as I felt more empathy with Sigurd than Raven. I might even revisit the Raven series after tackling Sigurd.

For more on Sigurd see:
  • God of Vengeance
  • Winters Fire
  • Wings of the Storm

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