Author – Giles Kristian
Pages – 354
Format – Ebook
For two years Osric has lived a simple life, apprenticed to the mute old carpenter who took him in when others spurned him. But when Norsemen from across the sea burn his village, Osric is taken prisoner by these warriors. Their chief, Sigurd the Lucky, believes the Norns have woven this strange boy’s fate together with his own, and Osric begins to sense glorious purpose among this fellowship of 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. But the Norsemen’s world is a savage one, where loyalty is often repaid in blood and where a young man must become a killer in order to survive. 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. He will find Cynethryth, an English girl with a soul to match his own. And he will find betrayal at the hands of cruel men, some of whom he regards as friends.
This is the first book I’ve read as part of my #Norsevember reading event and for the most part, it was bloody brilliant.
I’m not a fan of coming of age stories but this didn’t really feel like one because of the sheer amount of action and history. Our protagonist (and first person POV) is the titular character, Raven (or Osric before he meets the Norsemen). He’s around 16/17 years old and has no real memories, having been found and taken in by an English village a couple of years previous.
He’s not liked or trusted by most of the village, mainly as a result of the red eye he possesses as a result of a blood clot, the result making people fearful. Soon into the book, a band of around 50 Norse warriors lands on the coast, which kicks our story off. Raven discovers that he is able to speak their language, which hints at his own backstory.
Fast forward a bit and the majority of the plot centres around Raven’s assimilation into this group of Norse warriors and their growing acceptance of him, aswell as their journey of survival and the search for riches and glory.
What I loved about this book is how much history, Norse and English culture it fits in and you’ll genuinely learn a lot as you progress through the book. It feels particularly immersive and made me want to watch Vikings and The Last Kingdom again. As with the charismatic Ragnar in the Vikings series, we have Jarl Sigurd who is the leader of the Norse warriors. He sort of begins to act as an authority figure to Raven as he learns what it takes to be a warrior, a transition from scared lad to a vicious fighter.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget he actually is only a teenager as in some of the battle scenes he holds his own with the other men – this is kind of unrealistic in some respects, especially for someone with so little experience but it made for a good story. There are other occasions in which things work out a little conveniently but it is fiction afterall.
There are some upsetting moments where you really feel for our main character, and more than a fair share of close scrapes with death, as well as moments in which you are begging him and his comrades to survive, or sometimes simply to take vengeance. For this reason it felt like a real page turner as there was plenty of action and drama dragging you through the story.
It was easy to get invested and care about the fates of a number of characters, and there were many who were very colourful and entertaining – on both the Norse and English sides. It was really fun to follow Raven’s story as he fights alongside the Wolves and we get an insight into what it is to be a Norse warrior.
I was a little disappointed at one stage, where there was the opportunity for Raven to turn down the chance of being ‘offered’ a captive girl by another warrior. It was a shock to have read the book completely behind the character for him force himself on a woman against her will, when we would have expected him not to go down this road.
Saying that, the author has gone for realism here, and the scene isn’t gratuitous, lasting only a sentence or two. It takes away some of our support for the protagonist but there is no denying that this happened regularly – I would have just preferred a character I had grown to really like refrain from it.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book; it’s exciting, well written, funny at times, brutal, immersive. I had to adjust my feelings about the main character, Raven and accept that he’s not the character I thought I was riding along with. But I was able to temper this with the context, time period and his subsequent regret to still care what happens in the rest of his story. You don’t have to agree with every main character’s decision to enjoy a book – and I loved this book.
If you like Norse culture, England in the middle ages or well researched historical fiction jam packed with action you’ll absolutely love this book.
Thanks for reading!