Sons of Thunder
This is the second book of the Raven series, and it follows on closely from the first adventure. Raven and his Viking sword-brothers, the Wolfpack, seek a reckoning with Ealdred, who has cheated them out of treasure and most importantly their ship. They pursue Ealdred to the lands of the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne, accompanied by their tame English monk, Egfrith, and Cynethryth, Ealdred’s daughter and the woman Raven is in love with. Soon they are forced to fight for their lives in an aggressively Christian empire that would wipe pagans like them from the face of the earth. It is here that Raven’s singular abilities come to the fore.
There is a real sense of an authentic world being created here: the dialogue is crisp and appropriately salty, the allusions to the Norse Gods for example are omnipresent but never intrude, and the pace of the story is never allowed to slacken. And the story is the thing here; the research is worn lightly and always put at the service of the narrative. An excellent read which compares favourably with writers like Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden. I look forward to the next adventure.
8th century AD. In this second Raven adventure, Raven is now one of Jarl Sigurd’s brotherhood of Viking warriors on board the Serpent. They are seeking the treacherous Ealdred who has stolen their other ship, together with a valuable holy book. Ealdred is on his way to the Frankish Emperor, Charlemagne, to sell him the book and Sigurd is determined to kill him before he does. The Vikings may be masters of the art of seamanship in open sea, but navigating rivers in the hostile kingdom of the Franks is another matter.
Their adventures eventually take them to Aix-la-Chapelle and a fateful meeting with Charlemagne. With them goes Cynethryth, Ealdred’s estranged daughter and secretly beloved of Raven. As befits a male fantasy heroine (she sleeps with Raven once, early on, but appears to forget the fact), she keeps a low profile unless needed to further the plot.
It’s all very macho, concerned with male bonding and honour. The numerous fights are bloody and brutal, though cunning has its place, too; Raven must use his wits as well as his battle skills to survive. In spite of the numerous bloodthirsty fights, I enjoyed this book. It is well written with an immediacy and freshness that I liked. Kristian’s depiction of life as a Viking raider is entirely believable. I particularly liked Raven’s unwilling awe in the Aix-la-Chapelle cathedral and his astonishment at seeing a stone fountain spouting water. But Kristian gets across the perceptive point that, whilst these things amaze Raven, he sees no use for them.
In her HNS review of the first Raven book, Nancy Henshaw detects a hint that ‘Sigurd yearns for something greater than a life focussed on fields of blood’. Alas, this doesn’t materialize, and I suspect we’re in for yet more blood and brutality.