Blood Eye (2014, Giles Kristian, book)
And this one is TOTALLY NEW! Yep, I didn’t just scrape this off a disk somewhere. It’s a book about Vikings, by Giles Kristian, published around 2007. Here are my thoughts.
I won’t bang on about the plot: Young man meets Vikings, is taken in, finds he is a natural killer and has bloody adventures in Southern England in the 8/9th century. That about sums it up.
I like Vikings, for a whole parcel of reasons. I studied them at university, and married a lady Viking. I’ve had this lying around for ages and fancied something Norse. Blood Eye adequately captures the spirit of the era and is overall entertaining, but there are some major issues with it.
Firstly, although the prose is very well written, the structure is poor, with not one but two pairs of near-identical incidents. In the first act of the book the Vikings are twice invited into mead halls, where friendly feasting turns violent. In the third act, our hero Raven is rescued at the last minute by the unexpected arrival of his Viking pals, again twice. Sure, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, but it’s slack storytelling that should have been ironed out.
Secondly, global amnesia is the hokiest plot device in the world (when we meet the protagonist he’s living in an English village and can’t remember anything from before a couple of years ago. Is he English? Is he Norse? Read the whole series to find out if he’s secretly the son of the king of Norway!) It takes a lot for me to forgive amnesia, and there’s not quite good enough in here for such forgiveness to be forthcoming.
Thirdly, there’s the odd historical inaccuracy (to my mind at least). Pines are mentioned a few times as growing in England, but there are only two conifer types native to Britain – the Scots pine and the Yew. (Yeah, yeah, picky, picky). Pines were never grown widely here until relatively recently. Also, and this is something that I always grumble about when reading Dark Age era fiction, is the level of mutual intelligibility between Norse and Old English. It’s debatable how much, but there was at least some, even the modern descendants of the languages have a lot of similarities, so Norsemen standing around talking loudly about killing Old English speakers in total safety wouldn’t be possible. As I see it, anyway – I may be wrong, I’m sure Kristian did his research.
Bernard Cornwell handles both the “torn identity” (admittedly, it’s a useful narrative in to the world) and language issue better in his Viking stories.
But, the main character is extremely engaging, and it’s well written. Perhaps I’ll check out the others in the series.