Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Slayer Rune by John Snow

The Vikings more as people than as reavers

This is the first book in the Viking Series by the author and is set in around the 10th century. It centres on the settlement of Vik, a place rule by Harald, a chieftain with domestic and political troubles. The story opens with the visit of King Godred to Vik seen largely through the eyes of Sigurd, Harald’s second son. Of course Harald wants the visit to go off well as it will reflect upon him accordingly but he’s a man with a few secrets and it seems like one of them, a particularly dangerous one, is about to get out.

It is common in popular culture to represent Vikings as blood thirsty killers who did nothing else but invade other lands and kill lots of people, but this staid image is not what we get here. The Vikings had their own laws to live by and the taking of another’s life without good reason was viewed very seriously. Murder is punished by the king and there’s more than one murder associated with Vik for Harald to worry about.

I like the idea of the story, it is original and shows this period of history in a new light. The characters are clearly written but under-developed to my mind. Sigurd experiences quite a lot of trauma by the end of the story but I was never convinced of his emotional depth. Although things happen to him they do not seem to have any deep or lasting impact. I am not sure that I came to care very much for him. This under-development is reflected in other ways, such as his relationship with his father Harald, it should have plenty of depth and back-history but none of this comes across. There seems to be no strong feeling between the two and this is the same with Sigurd’s mother Tora.

That said the narrative is richly embellished with references to Norse mythology and this adds an extra dimension to the tale. Quite clearly John Snow is well versed in his subject and this is definitely one of the books strengths. Indeed, I found the level of authenticity to be quite captivating and I learnt something new about the Viking people just by reading this book.

In conclusion, an original story with a rich cultural overlay that is well worth a read.

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