Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson

Jo Fletcher books from Quercus Publishing has always come out with great books in the speculative fiction genre - unearthing gems like Aidan Harte, Sarah Pinborough, Mazarkis Williams to name a few. They can proudly count Iceland-born London based Snorri Kritjansson in that rank. A find, a very fine one at that.

Swords of Good Men is Snorri's debut and an accomplished piece of writing that firmly catapults him to the A-list of Fantasy writers. Set in the land of the fierce Vikings - Scandinava is brought to life adeptly by Snorri in the Valhalla Saga # 1 - featuring one too many bloodthirsty warriors caught in the middle of a huge melee. Huge burly bearded fellows swinging a mean double bladed axe, longships plowing through crashing waves, unbreachable tall garrison walls, blonde-haired goddesses. You name it, the book's nailed it dead right in terms bringing Viking folklore alive. Swords of Good Men is ultimately a big long drawn out bloody battle between three different groups of Vikings seeking the gates of Valhalla. The whole book is just a build-up towards that final battle - that lasts  good one-fourth of a book and delivers every bit on the pulse-pounding gory action craving.

The story really doesn't pause anywhere from the moment Ulfar Thormodssen, a young man finishing off a long weary world journey and is on his way home, sets foot on the tiny island of Stenvik - the last stop on this journey. However, Stenvik is the focal point of a war brewing between two different marauding parties ( Vikings each - but both with different religious sentiments - Skargrim under the influence of a mysterious lady Skuld who is pulling the strings to get the warring parties to converge and take over Stenvik - the agenda isn't clear until the end chapters. Young King Olav, a recent complete convert to the cause of the White Christ and earnestly wanting to spread the message into Stenvik, rushing in with a huge war-party to the cause)  Caught in the middle of these warring parties are the Villagers - battle-hardened veterans one and all, led from the front by a cunning, able chieftain in Sigurd. Ulfar and his cousin, Geiri get unwittingly drawn into the violent proceedings. and to make things worse, Ulfar falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful young woman named Lillia in the village - already married to an abusive war-chieftain Harald. The love-story though doesn't really blossom out with the focus shifting back to the rising clouds of war over this tiny village. Because soon things turn bloody. rivers of blood, spilled entrails, axes singing, arrows flying and the swords hacking.

So Snorri can write a rousing story - and get your nerves jangled up with all the tension spilling from the pages as the action ramps up several notches. You'd be right down breathless from the scorching pace that he sets out - never taking the foot off the pedal. Though with this approach, he probably has sacrificed a bit on the characterization parts. You never get to spend too long with one character before you're whipped around to another. The events tumble past you - switching perspectives at the drop of a hat. While it is not so much of a complaint personally as I think it worked for me - the only complaint that I had - was with the unveiling of secrets/plots. There are several going on - at the same time. Chiefly three major wheels of action: Ulfar on the Island of Stenvik, getting dragged into the politics of war, making friends with Audun - the big burly blacksmith with a devastating secret of his own and Sven, the grizzled old war-veteran and right-hand man of the Village chieftain. He is 'pitched' to be the 'hero' of the series and undergoes the maximum character evolution. Then there is Skargrim - charging across foaming seas with his warships and galleys towards Stenvik, a puppet in the hands of the mysterious lady Skuld and all his war-chiefs behind him. Thora, his lieutenant makes for some colorful entries on the pages and was someone you would love. The third force is King Olav and his unshakable faith in the White Christ - at the head of a huge army on the way to annex the tiny village of Stenvik to the Christian domination. While these stories collide - and that collision makes up for better than last quarter of the whole book [ and hell, it's downright entertaining. large scale massive efforts to scale the fort walls, one-on-one scuffles - it's all there!] I was trying hard to understand what's the motive for Skargrim's desperate attempt on warring with Stenvik. Especially with tidbits thrown in about his past connection with both Sven and Sigurd.

And another big complaint was the abrupt end to the proceedings. Yes there is a massive twist/shocker at the end but I still felt short-changed as the pages stopped flipping. [ yeah. I was flipping like there was no tomorrow!] It's ultimately more historical fiction - the authentic portrayal of a Viking village and life-ways adeptly done. But the final few chapters hold a nice surprise - making this a low fantasy at the end of the day.

So if you're looking for a great Viking story - full of rousing action, a story on blistering jet-fuel and some heart-warming heroes to cheer for - then look no further than this one. Swords of Good Men makes for a splendid debut for Snorri Kristjansson and I for one will be watching his works.

Blood will follow and so it should. Here I come!


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