Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bracelet of Bones (Viking Sagas #1) by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Solveig is with her Viking father, Halfdan, in a valley in Trondheim, Norway, where he is telling her of his experience in the great the Battle of  Stiklestad in 1030 when King Olaf died and Norway fell under Danish rule. Halfdan and another man saved King Olaf's son, Harald's life and promised to serve with him in the Varangian guard in Miklagard when he sent for him. The Varangian guard were personal bodyguards to the Byzantine emperors. Harald sends for Halfdan many years after the battle, and Halfdan tells his daughter that she can go with him to Miklagard only to secretly leave in the morning without her. Solveig does not get along with her verbally abusive stepmother and one stepbrother that seems to teeter on being violent. The other stepbrother is kind and she gets along with him. The thought of spending time without her father is unbearable and Solveig sets out on a journey from Trondheim to Miklagard, (Turkey) to find him. While the historical details are well-done, the plot is somewhat weak and the pacing suffers as a result.

Solveig takes a skiff to Kiev where she is helped by two traders to find a boat that is traveling close to Miklagard. She becomes a part of Red Ottar's crew where she makes friends with the English slave woman, Edith, and Torsten who met her father. She becomes friends with Vigot only to find a dark side to him. Their friendship never seemed authentic to me. Vigot comes across as a snake and when Solveig voices her regret at confronting him, it didn't seem real. Edith and Solveig's relationship is quite authentic and real.

The theme of religion gets a bit messy because the author has Muslim, Christian, and Norse mythology competing with each other. Add in a healthy dose of superstition and it made it hard to determine motivations. Solveig believes in the old Norse gods and Christianity and her thoughts reflect more Christian beliefs. Bergdis devoutly believes in the old gods while Edith is a Christian. Mihran is Muslim. The other characters are a mismash of beliefs. I did not understand why the crew turned back from the trade port when they were 11 days out due to superstitious beliefs. Even with the leader dead, I would have thought the lure of making that much money in trade would have overridden their fears. I also kept waiting for Bruni and Torsten to duke it out, but that never happens. Torsten has taken his brother's feud with Bruni, something that is historically true but in this story the two are not unreconciled. Usually payment is made or revenge sought. I thought Red Ottar might mitigate but it doesn't come about. Maybe this will happen in the sequel.

The plot doesn't have enough challenges in it as the character progresses. She suffers hardships, but conveniently finds someone (usually a man) to help her on her journey. She never has to do the seeking. Even Mihran happens to know all these kings and helps Solveig. She never earns her way except rowing a boat and carving items out of different bones. As a result, she never comes alive for me. I wanted her to be more fierce and independent. Instead she is usually saved by a man. She does show gumption portaging and also when she stands up for Edith, but even then it is a man that saves Edith, not Solveig.

The Vikings believed in Fate which is represented in the Norse myths, but their views were far from fatalistic. Life was expected to be a struggle and they tried to rise above it with bravery, loyalty, and hospitality. The prophecy represents this Fate although it seemed to be the easy way to work in tension. I think prophecies are an overused writing technique. Solveig and the others use folk tales and Norse myths to keep their courage up or explain that which is unexplainable. This and the ancient Norse verse adds a richness to the story and setting.

The ending was a bit rushed. The themes of friendship and treachery, clash of religions, and father-daughter relationship lacked enough depth to draw me into the story. Perhaps the author was trying to do too much. I'm not sure. While I loved the historical detail, the story just fell flat. If you have not read this author before then I recommend his Arthur trilogy.

3 Smileys

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