After two years spent as a travelling envoy and bodyguard to his high-born cousin, Ulfar Thormodsson has one last stop to make. But in the cold, hard town of Stenvik, not everyone is as they seem and strangers can make hard enemies. Aundun Arngrimsson works his forge and lives a secret solitary life. No one knows about his past, and he’d like to keep it that way. But the Old Gods have other ideas. While unseen forces move within the town a young king’s army marches towards Stenvik, intent on raising the Banners of the White Christ. And a Viking Fleet of longships bring another, more mysterious enemy from the North.
Swords of Good Men is written by the Icelandic, living in London author Snorri Kirstjansson. It’s the first in the Valhalla Saga and also features as Snorri Kristjansson’s debut. When I encountered the blurb of this book on the website of Jo Fletcher it was immediately a book that I wanted to read. I haven’t had the chance to read more into the Scandinavian inspired types of stories after I finished Runemarks and Runelight so I was really looking forward to emerge once again in this part Norse history, part mythical experience. And an experience it proved to be!
Swords of Good Men is a Viking inspired story that takes place in Norway 996 AD. From the prologue onwards this story really throws you right there in the middle the story. A great set of characters and an interesting world. You are readily introduced to a lot of characters that each play their own part in the storyline. For me the introduction to each of these character did seem a little fast, especially by some of the things that happened. Because certain actions that are made remain obscure until much later in the book. Having to just accept these facts might be hard for some readers as it can be quite off putting. However for me it worked quite well actually. And even more so were the chapters and the alternating paragraph, highlighting different characters each time, in them. As you get to follow each storyline, there is always an introduction to where those events were happening, like in Stenvik itself or on the North Sea etc. This especially produced a great sense when armies were on the march and you felt them nearing Stenvik. Furthermore Snorri Kristjansson produced a great pacing by alternating the storylines. He keeps the action pretty tight, gruesome and bloody.
Within the story of Sword of Good Men you follow three initially separate storylines, one that takes place in Stenvik, one of a marauding fleet of Vikings and the last of King Olav Tryggvason, who is spreading the religion of the White Christ. Now within these three storyline you get introduced to a lot of different characters that each really have their own personality. Though some might have been more unique that others, they were al great to read about. In Stenvik, you follow the adventures of Ulfar, Harald, Audun and Sigurd mostly. In the prologue and earlier on in the story there is a lot of focus on Ulfar himself, but the reason for this remains to be guessed, since it didn’t feel that his character would be that important.. just yet. Luckily later you learn more about what Ulfar might be destined to do. Which produced a great tie-in with all the earlier events. Audun was a real cool character to read about, from the synopsis the parts of “leading a secret and solitary life” really got me curious, and what Audun does in the ending is pretty cool stuff, and though it might not be that original, I don’t really care frankly because it fitted well into the story itself. This blacksmith knows how to handle a hammer! The other two characters Harald and Sigurd mostly play a part in the town politics. Stenvik is ruled/coordinated by Sigurd, Harald has a lot of bottled up rage that he lets loose on villagers and his wife...
The second storyline focuses on the Viking part. Now I reread several parts of the book to get to know whether there was any motiviation as to what they wanted out of Stenvik and couldn’t quite get the reason why they ventured to it in the first place. There is nice interlude at the end of the book that finally reveals their motivation, but a few hints thrown in their earlier on might have produced a better rounded story, it now like they just went without cause. That aside, this storyline was just chockfull of barbaric, brutal, gruesome, bloody and viscous Viking action. Snorri Kristjansson really puts these warrior in the spotlight by describing them, how they looked, war regalia and the like, but also their foul language and their bold actions. As you get to learn more about the force they are assembling with the different legendary chieftains like Egill Jotunn and his band of Berserkers really gave these vivid images in my imagination. Blood soaked warrior swinging double headed axes, rampaging! Well I can say that with the Vikings introduced this book isn’t lacking any action!
The third storyline focuses on a crusade set into motion by King Olav Tryggvason who spreads the word of the White Christ. The Christian believe. Still in the age of the Nordic gods: Thor, Odin and Freya. He has a task set out for him and trying to convert village after village and he has set his goals to reach Stenvik and convert those heretics, or let them die by his army. King Olav is utterly convinced that his god is the sole one and shows this by a set of bold moves when trying to win villagers over to his cause, though there is nice emphasis on this part of the book. There is shift halfway as the story more focuses on the Vikings and the villagers Stenvik themselves. There isn’t really any action until the book nears it finish. But this part was crucial to the storyline as in the end you see all three collide with each other. In the final battle.
In the end of the book is was great to see that a lot of the things in each storyline were connected. Swords of Good Men might have felt “chaotic” by jumping from place to place and storyline to storyline. Although I must say, no stress, that it felt goodly chaotic, once you are really into this story it just doesn’t seem to let you go. The ending feels pretty good and solid and Snorri Kristjansson neatly lets the major storylines connect with each other, finally seeing the bigger picture of it all. What also falls to notice is the bold writing of the plot, a lot of people die, even important characters die. It does come to show that Snorri Kristjansson isn’t afraid of surprising and shocking (in a good way) the reader. And even more so is the introduction of the Nordic gods that are influencing (speculating here) people to rise up for their own cause and fight the White Christ. I hope to see more of these influences in the second book. It really transformed the story from only Viking fighting to the more mythical side, especially once I learned to full plans of Skuld. Good stuff right there.
Swords of Good Men is definite recommendation if your looking for a story hinted with Norse mythology and if your into bold, bloody and violent fighting it’s even more up your alley. But it is not only fighting that takes place, on the whole Swords of Good Men also shows great characterization and a interesting world. The beginning of the book might have take a bit getting used but once I was into Swords of Good Men this book read away in a few strokes. Snorri Kristjansson has pulled of a great feat with his writing, producing three great storylines that neatly collide into one in the end. This book has a lot of great brutal fighting scenes that all come to fruition in the final raid on Stenvik where you see how inventive people can get! But it’s not solely the fighting that makes this book great, in the town of Stenvik and among the Viking tribes there is also a lot of internal politics that show a nice diversity on the side. This book is just the right length and with the last sentence of the story (not epilogue) I’m already guessing how this story might be picked up, Snorri Kristjansson leaves this book open with a nice classic cliffhanger. Swords of Good Men is a well rounded story that shows a lot of promise to be explored later on.