The Sea Queen

Written by Linnea Hartsuyker
Review by Kristen McDermott

Hartsuyker’s re-imagining of the founding of Norway in the 9th century captures all the glory of its source material, the 13th-century saga, Heimskringla, but also adds a rich, Shakespearean approach to characters and politics. The first volume of this trilogy, The Half-Drowned King, introduced her fascinating characters: idealistic warrior Ragnvald; his sister, the brave adventuress Svanhild; and her lover, the brooding, Loki-like pirate Solvi. These fictional characters humanize the historical center of the novels, King Harald Fairhair, whose prowess and charisma forged a nation out of chaotic tribal alliances and feuds.

The Sea Queen is less focused on the characters’ inner lives and more on the complex web of incidents that tests their loyalties and shapes their destinies, but all three main characters, Svanhild particularly, are so beautifully realized in their intelligence and emotional development that the descriptions of sea voyages, battles, and mead hall law-wrangling mesh seamlessly with the more personal stories. Svanhild, who had abandoned her home and brother to join Solvi in his travels, finds herself at the beginning of this volume longing for a home of her own, as Ragnvald struggles to balance his loyalty to Harald with his responsibilities as father and a king. The treachery and greed of Harald’s enemies set the three on a collision course that will culminate in an epic battle not only for Norway’s future, but for Svanhild’s desire to be warrior, mother, and queen all in one. To do so, however, will cost her most cherished loves, including Solvi, whose fierce independence is incompatible with Harald and Ragnvald’s dream of a nation of law rather than war.

This compelling story is enhanced by a wealth of detail about the daily lives of Norse men and women, whose ambition and entrepreneurship sent them all over the known world centuries before the rest of Europe began its age of exploration. This is historical fiction at its best and shouldn’t be missed.