Norway in the late 8th century AD. The land and sea are divided and ruled by kings and jarls, united in alliances sealed by oathsworn bonds of fealty. To break this oath is to lose all honour and vengeance will be pursued with a godlike fury. King Gorm’s betrayal of Jarl Harald is complete – the jarl is defeated in sea battle, tricked in parley, his people slain in their village or enslaved. Harald’s youngest son Sigurd, who so recently, for the first time, staggered Harald’s men with his innate warrior prowess, survives with his father’s brother in arms, Olaf, the fearful Asgot the godi and Sigurd’s boyhood friend, Svein. Their mission is simple, to rescue Sigurd’s sister, bound for the slave market or a hatefilled marriage, and to wreak vengeance on King Gorm and his henchman Jarl Randver.
Sigurd must prove himself, as a wearer of rings let alone a giver of them. He must find his small band a ship worthy of their quest. He must prove godly favour through ritual and magic and he must win new followers to join his men.
So begins a quest that will hold the reader spellbound. Over land and sea, Sigurd sets his course of vengeance to jarldom, conquering the obstacles placed in his path by gods and men, overcoming the challenges, by axe or guile, in a series of adventures, most of which end with blood shed but each a vital step on Sigurd’s journey. Sigurd, though, is a hero we’ve met before and how good it is to sail with him again.
Three years ago I devoured in one weekend, back to back, Giles Kristians’ Viking trilogy, Raven. Sigurd the Lucky is a fearsome jarl, ferocious and brave, honoured by his men, favoured by Odin. If you’ve read these books, then you will no doubt have been as delighted as I was to learn that Giles Kristian was to return to Sigurd, but to his youth and the events that made him the warrior we know. If you haven’t read them, then you have a treat in store. You can also rest assured that God of Vengeance not only welcomes readers who know Sigurd well but also those who are new to this world. This novel would serve well as a gateway to the Raven series.
Giles Kristian is steeped in all things Viking. He is a master at immersing his reader in this thousand year old world. Everything about God of Vengeance oozes Viking – its rich language, stunning landscapes, its mythology, as well as its men and women, warriors, mothers, priests and kings. The novel is action packed throughout but it has key episodes which stand out like peaks, the ritual scene in the fens when Sigurd takes himself to the point of death to discover the will of Odin, but most of all the moment when Sigurd and his men discover Black Floki, chained to a rock, fighting like a madman for both survival and lust. But despite this male domination of story and world, there is a strong place in it for shieldmaiden Valgerd.
Silver is less important for these Vikings than swordfame and Sigurd can provide that in abundance.
The God of Vengeance is bloody and brutal. Limbs are lopped off, throats are slashed and skulls crushed at regular intervals. But it is all done so well. Giles Kristian writes beautifully and richly, powerfully evoking the language and sentiments of this long gone age. Sigurd is such a great character, but he’s just one of several. Black Floki, especially, is not a man to be forgotten easily while I felt particular attachment to the older warrior Olaf. The battle scenes are complemented by other moments set in Viking houses and settlements, giving us a glimpse of life in the long hall, male and female, slave and warrior, at the table of the Jarl. There are also the moments at sea, perhaps the element in which these Vikings felt closest to their gods and ancestors.
This is a glorious novel, unapologetically violent, fabulously celebratory of all things Viking. Sigurd’s quest for vengeance is exciting, brutal, bloody and driven. Without doubt, God of Vengeance is one of the finest historical novels of the year. The whole book is such a brilliant read and I am thrilled that Giles Kristian has returned to a world that he has made his own.
If you need any further enticement to read this wonderful book (and it’s a great looking hardback), then just take a look at its trailer. Book trailers usually pass me by but this one grabbed me by the throat.
The Raven trilogy – Blood Eye, Sons of Thunder, Odin’s Wolves
Civil War novels
The Bleeding Land