Tag Archives: Viking

Wings of the Storm by Giles Kristian

Bantam Press | 2016 (1 December) | 309p | Review copy | Buy the book

Wings of the Storm by Giles KristianWings of the Storm concludes, in a magnificent hardback, Giles Kristian’s mighty Viking Saga that chronicles Sigurd Haraldarson’s rise to glory in the later years of the 8th century. Before you step any further, do be aware that you need to have read God of Vengeance and Winter’s Fire first. This review, which, I’m honoured to say, opens the Wings of the Storm blog tour on publication day, assumes that you have so please tread carefully.

The fame of Sigurd is growing. Warriors, both male and female, have been drawn to his flame, attracted by the promise of arm rings, wealth and a noble hero’s death, iron weapon in hand. But Sigurd’s relentless mission, to confront the oath-breaker King Gorm, the betrayer of his people, killer of his family, has stalled. Sigurd and his warriors have become too useful to Alrik who needs them to defend his stolen hillfort from his great enemy, the jarl Guthrum. The rewards of success are high – boxes of iron and silver, even pieces of gold – but the price of failure is one Sigurd is not used to paying. But Guthrum is powerful, no easy man to beat, nor are his men, and Sigurd finds himself a captive, intended to be sacrificed to the gods in the sacred temple at Ubsala. But, as Sigurd regularly reminds Guthrum, Sigurd is Odin-favoured and the fate of us all lies within the gift of the gods.

Giles Kristian has Viking blood flowing through his veins and every page of this novel, and the trilogy, is enriched by the author’s inherent empathy for and understanding of the period that he so vividly and colourfully evokes. This is a saga set during a time and place that fascinate but can also seem remote and unknowable. Giles Kristian throws all of the shadows to one side and rewards us with an epic vision of heroism, war, vengeance, blood, warships, snowy mountains and thick forest, gods and feasting, that seems both real and a glorious dream. The characters are larger than life, literally at times, and yet, despite their objectives and their methods of attaining them, they are still recognisable human beings who have flaws, can suffer, can inflict great pain, and can die, every one of them. Sigurd’s trust and confidence in his gods seems unwavering but even Sigurd has his moments of doubt, particularly when a sword or axe is held at his throat.

Other much loved characters return with Sigurd, notably Floki, Olaf and Valgerd, but there are more added to their number and not all of them are who we’d expect. As Sigurd’s fame spreads so too does his appeal as leader. Sigurd might not yet be a jarl but he is close. The parallel story of Sigurd’s sister, Runa, also continues in Wings of the Storm, adding a tantalising glimpse of another part of this world, an island-bound community of warrior women.

Sigurd’s destiny shapes this novel and it is so satisfying to see the trilogy draw to its magnificent and breathtaking close. War, battle, blood pulses through the last exhilarating and traumatic third of the book and to call it intense is an understatement. There’s plenty of gore and violence but there’s also high emotion and these Vikings brought me to the edge of my seat.

The end of such a wonderful trilogy can be saddening as well as satisfying but Giles Kristian has given us a silver lining – the sensational Raven trilogy, which continues the saga of Sigurd, the favourite of the gods.

Other reviews
The Terror: a short story
God of Vengeance (Rise of Sigurd 1)
Winter’s Fire (Rise of Sigurd 2)
Raven: Blood Eye; Raven: Sons of Thunder; Raven: Odin’s Wolves
The Bleeding Land
Brothers’ Fury
With Wilbur Smith – Golden Lion

Find Giles Kristian online
Twitter: @gileskristian
Facebook: GilesKristian

I am so proud and chuffed to open the blog tour with this review. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

gkblogtour

Viking Fire by Justin Hill

Viking Fire | Justin Hill | 2016, Pb 2017 | Little, Brown | 379p | Review copy | Buy the book

Viking Fire by Justin HillIn 1030 King Olaf of Norway is slain in battle by forces loyal to Cnut the Great. Olaf’s younger brother Harald, this his first taste of war, is dragged from the slaughter, not expected to survive his wounds. But survive he does, hidden away by caring hands, fuelled by plans of vengeance. Homeless and hunted, Harald thrives as a warrior for hire, attracting larger numbers of followers with his acts of bravery and the treasure that results. Harald’s adventures take him across the frozen north, pitting him against fearless chieftains, and then on to Rus before he arrives in Mickelgard – Constantinople – and there Harald wins glory as a protector of Emperors, even a lover of Empresses, as he fights for his new overlords across the Mediterranean, from Jerusalem to Italy and Sicily.

Always, though, Harald waits for the time when he can return to Norway and reclaim his throne. And there he can earn the name of Harald Hardrada, the Hard Ruler, and be heralded as the greatest warrior of his age. But Harald is not a man who can rest and his dream of winning everything and more that Cnut achieved drives Harald on to England. The year is 1066.

Viking Fire immerses the reader in a the last golden age of the Viking World which arguably reached its height with the extraordinary larger-than-life figure of Harald Hardrada. Harald’s world was as big as his ambition and Justin Hill covers it all, providing especially memorable sections set in the north and then in Constantinople. The contrast between these two places is enormous and yet Vikings were powerful in both. How Harald and his men adapt from fighting brutal rogue chieftains in frozen forests and on ice to dealing with lethal Byzantine politics in perfumed palaces of princes and eunuchs is incredible. Justin Hill describes both worlds so well, and somehow Byzantium seems even deadlier than surviving a frostbitten night on a storm-battered mountain.

Harald, a faithful Christian (and brother to Saint Olaf), even makes it to Jerusalem where he tours the sites of the Bible, following in the footsteps of a Christ he views as a warrior god, holding court in a great heavenly hall of rejoicing Vikings. Harald escorts to Jerusalem from Cyprus the masons who will build the Holy Sepulchre – I love moments like that in historical fiction. They make the hairs stick up on the back of my neck.

The novel resonates with these two different worlds, their different forms of Christianity, their entirely different ways of ruling. But the book also presents intimate portraits of the men and women of the time and not just Harald. We meet the women that he loved and the men who fought alongside him, creating bittersweet relationships. Viking warriors are not always the easiest of men to get along with! The Byzantine rulers, especially Theodora, are enigmatic figures, hardly likeable but most definitely charismatic – and scene stealers.

Viking Fire is told in Harald’s own words. His intention is to tell the life of his brother Olaf, once King and now a Saint but this is most definitely Harald’s own story, revealing the extraordinary life of a great warrior and good king who also played a significant role in England’s fate during that year of destiny, 1066. Above all else, this is a novel of adventure and bloody action and is thoroughly entertaining throughout.

Justin Hill writes so well, capturing the times but making them fully accessible, while telling the engrossing and adventurous story of a man who deserves to be remembered but has been overlooked by that other warrior who followed him, William the Conqueror. But it was Harald who was the last and greatest Viking. It’s a tremendous story.

Winter’s Fire by Giles Kristian

Winter’s Fire | Giles Kristian | 2016 | Bantam Press | 311p | Review copy | Buy the book

Winter's Fire by Giles KristianWinter’s Fire is the second novel in Giles Kristian’s latest Viking series which tells the tale of young Sigurd Haraldarson’s rise to glory, a story that is later continued in Kristian’s superb Raven trilogy. Winter’s Fire follows on directly from God of Vengeance and so you should certainly read that first. The review below assumes that you have, although little is given away of what went before.

It is Norway in AD 785 and Sigurd Haraldarson’s reputation as a mighty warrior has spread across the land. Many, including Sigurd himself, believe he is Odin-kissed, a favourite of the gods. But Sigurd is still a young man and, although he has won the fine ship Reinen, he has few men to pull its oars and little silver to win more warriors to his cause. Sigurd’s father, a great warrior and jarl, was betrayed and murdered by King Gorm alongside the rest of his kin and most of his men, but Sigurd, the one remaining son, is not yet a jarl himself. Warriors are sworn to him, including fierce Olaf, frightening Black Floki, and Shield Maiden Valgerd, but they are not enough. Before he can destroy King Gorm, Sigurd must win more men, more silver and more fighting glory. But King Gorm is no fool. He knows this young warrior, whose reputation grows daily more fearsome, will come for him. That’s if Gorm hasn’t killed him first.

And so begins another great voyage through Viking seas, a lost yet gloriously evocative world that Giles Kristian brings alive in such a way that is almost unchallenged in historical fiction. Giles Kristian has Norse blood in his veins and he doesn’t waste a drop of it. The language of these novels – of the Rise of Sigurd series and the utterly brilliant Raven books – is so rich in Viking history and myth. A glossary helps the reader to understand some of the language and this is a good tool to have but I am so pleased that these words are used. They fit with the landscape – the seas, the long halls, the forts, islands and mountains of rock, ice and snow. They allow us to feel more at home with the banter, thoughts and dreams of these warrior men and women. In this world, weapons have names and, just like their ships, have an inherent power. Battles on sea and land are commonplace and they are bloody, with limbs lopped and heads discarded, but the language and the characterisation let us inside this other world and it is thrilling to be there.

Winter’s Fire is full of action from the outset, all set within an icy winter during which no-one but the most desperate would put his ships to sea. But nobody can be more driven than Sigurd. And yet there is another side to him that we see when he tries to care for his sister and also as he realises that, although he loves all of his men, there is one warrior, the Shield Maiden, who has captured his heart. Sigurd is a young man, trying to prove himself as lord, warrior, friend, brother and man, and it’s this rough journey that we follow here. There are chapters when we leave Sigurd and are given glimpses into King Gorm’s court. From these scenes comes the tension – Sigurd is a hunted man.

This isn’t just Sigurd’s story. New characters join those we have met before and it’s good to get to know all of them better. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses we are given into the life of Sigurd’s sister. She is just one of several intriguing female figures. This is by no means an entirely male world.

God of Vengeance is a hard act to follow and, even though I thoroughly enjoyed Winter’s Fire and can’t praise it enough, I don’t think that it quite equals the brilliance of the earlier novel. This is partly because I think it would be a tall order to equal such a novel but also because Winter’s Fire, perhaps inevitably, does have the feel of a middle book. Sigurd has reached the stage where he must consolidate his earlier achievements before he can bring about his destiny. Winter’s Fire looks back to God of Vengeance while also looking ahead to the next novel which, judging by this book’s events, is going to be a belter.

Reading a new Giles Kristian novel is such a pleasure, whether it’s about the Vikings or the English Civil War, and I have had a wonderful couple of days reading Winter’s Fire. If you haven’t read any of these books yet then I would suggest you wait no longer. This is historical fiction at its finest.

Other reviews
God of Vengeance
Raven: Blood Eye; Raven: Sons of Thunder; Raven: Odin’s Wolves
The Terror: a short story
The Bleeding Land
Brothers’ Fury
With Wilbur Smith –
Golden Lion

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie (Shattered Sea 2)

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 486
Year: 2015
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Half the World by Joe AbercrombieReview
With Half the World Joe Abercrombie returns us to the Shattered Sea, a place of fantasy but which to me feels embedded in the Viking world. A cold, beautiful place of ice, mountains and forests, populated by small warring kingdoms, each empowered by their chief god – Mother War, herself in an uneasy alliance with Father Peace. Half the World is the followup to the glorious Half a King but it is not a straightforward sequel. Time has moved on. Half the World features familiar figures, notably Yarvi, our Half a King, but now he is joined by a fresh set of characters, new young warriors learning to know their place and how to fight for their King, Queen and gods. So, while you don’t need to have read Half a King to enjoy Half the World, I would suggest that you do so anyway.

Thorn is our hero. A young girl mourning the loss of her father, slain in single combat by Grom-Gil-Gorm, the Breaker of Swords, who wants nothing less than to be a warrior, to claim an oar on a ship, to wreak vengeance. But when she accidentally kills a boy during weapon practice, she is named a murderer. Her only escape from being crushed by rocks is to serve the now powerful Yarvi. And Yarvi has grand schemes of his own. They involve a sea- and river-borne journey to the south, to find new allies in old enemies, to bring to an end the wars that divide the Shattered Sea. Thorn is part of his plan, so too is Brand, a young man with the strongest of backs and most questioning of minds, who looks at Thorn, her filthy half-shorn hair, her snarl and the bag of father’s bones around her neck, and sees someone very special indeed. Half the World continues the story of Yarvi and his crew but most of all it tells the tale of Thorn and Brand.

Thorn is a fabulous young heroine. Battered and scarred, she has a formidable time growing into her destiny. Her warrior training is relentless and brutal, her endurance is tested to the extreme. Despite her stubbornness and dedication, Thorn remains hugely likeable. There are tears but only we are allowed to see them. This is a society in which many children have no parents and there are reminders of that constantly. There are some lonely souls here just as there are others who are deeply loved. Brand is another one in need of some love and he’s even easier to like than Thorn. Neither wants romance, or so they think, but it’s clear from the beginning that they’re not going to have much choice.

Half the World is a beautifully written half-Viking, half-fantasy adventure. Its landscapes are huge and rich, the ruins and the relics of the long gone Elfish kingdoms both strikingly eerie and reminiscent of Roman memories to Saxon and Viking societies. It’s hugely evocative. The sea and river journeys are wonderfully described, most particularly life at the oar and the scenes when the crew must carry their ship across a mountain. These are such cinematic passages and were the highlight to me. This is when we learn most about our crew. It was also very good indeed to spend time with Yarvi again. Although he is now a secondary character he still has a strong role and he has a page-stealing presence.

Half the World is action-packed and thrilling, especially during the second half, but the battles and fights seemed to me to take second place here to character development, in contrast to Half a King. There are few surprises, including the romance. Abercrombie doesn’t shy from the trials faced by a very young woman trying to live – even dominate – in a masculine world, such as periods and a changing body, and I liked how that was done. While I think I loved Half a King slightly more, overall Half the World‘s lasting impression to me is of a fun and enjoyable saga with a heroine that I loved very much indeed, fighting her path in a world of violence and wonder.

Other review
Half a King

The Terror: a short story by Giles Kristian

Year: 2014
Buy: Kindle
Source: Bought copy

The Terror by Giles KristianReview
It is AD 758 and the great hall of Harald, Viking jarl, is alive with memories retold of past adventures and deeds. Harald himself takes on the role of skald, his warriors gathering around his high seat, leaning back into their cloaks, comforted by the fire, warmed by the mead, while Grimhild, Harald’s beautiful wife, nurses their newest born, Sigurd. Jarl or not, Harald is a brave man because the subject of his story is another lord, none other than Grimhild’s father. As she watches on, fiercely but with a spark dancing in her eye, Harald tells his tale of daring and danger to his men and their wives, inspiring the young and the untested to seek out their own glory, but never would there be such a prize again as the prize that Harald and his friends fought for all those years ago.

What follows is a thoroughly entertaining, colourful tale of a group of young Vikings competing to out do one another on a reckless, foolhardy quest. While it initially reminds us of the high spirits of youth, timeless in any age, the mood soon turns – these are Vikings, after all – and violence and gore and mayhem will have their way. But this is also a memory, the jarl’s no less, retold time and time again no doubt, and so it captures and enhances every moment. The fact that the warriors of the story are naked and hairy for much of the tale does much to add to the enthusiasm of the narrator and his listeners. As for the nature of the Terror – Harald lets the tension build.

The Terror is a perfectly formed short story by one of the finest writers of historical fiction about today, Giles Kristian. One of the reasons why The Terror works so well, quite apart from the deeply evocative and powerful language, is because it is Harald’s own short story, told to us in his distinctive voice, in a spirit of warmth and camaraderie, bringing the reader into his inner circle, placing him or her by the fire and filling their head with a colourful, raucous memory from Harald’s glorious youth.

For those who enjoyed God of Vengeance this year, The Terror is also a wonderful opportunity to learn a little more about the parents and home of Sigurd, the Viking hero of God of Vengeance, before the tumultuous events that open that novel. If you’ve not read God of Vengeance, or the fabulous Raven trilogy, then The Terror is the perfect introduction to Giles Kristian’s remarkable skill as a creator of lost Viking worlds. Violent, warm, humorous and cruel, this story encapsulates so much of the appeal of Giles Kristian’s writing while adding even more to the background and mood of God of Vengeance. I was fond of Sigurd before but now I’ve had this glimpse of what he was fighting for and why I love him even more.

The short story, which you can enjoy in under an hour, is accompanied by the opening of God of Vengeance.

Other reviews
The Raven trilogy – Blood Eye, Sons of Thunder, Odin’s Wolves
God of Vengeance

Civil War novels
The Bleeding Land
Brothers’ Fury

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (Shattered Sea 1)

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 384
Year: 2014, Pb 2015
Buy: Hardback, Kindle, Paperback
Source: Review copy

Half a King by Joe AbercrombieReview
When King Uthrik and his heir are taken through the Last Door on the edge of a murderer’s sword, Prince Yarvi ascends the Black Chair, wearing the King’s Circle on his brow. This was not the destiny Yarvi had hoped for. His wish had been to complete his spiritual training and to become a minister as plain Brother Yarvi, no longer a prince. To his father and brother, Yarvi had seemed half a man, one of his hands deformed beyond use. Restrained by unkind words and deeds, Yarvi is unprepared for kingship. It seems like cruel destiny, then, when he is cast from the throne through the greatest of treacheries, thrown into the sea, from which he is reborn as a slave, an oarsman and, finally, a warrior and one of a band of brothers and sister, each with their own vengeance to wreak, especially Yarvi who has a throne to claim.

Half a King is a fantasy adventure but for me it is fresh with the sea air of a Viking saga. It has a suitably traditional, ageless theme – the young prince overthrown who must prove himself as a warrior and leader before he can become king – but Yarvi’s character, and so many others aboard this novel, is so distinct and original that there are surprises throughout and our expectations as to the outcome of such a saga are wonderfully challenged. The ending is superb.

Once Yarvi is an enslaved oarsman aboard the South Wind, Half A King comes to life in fabulous ways. The female captain Shadikshirram is a painted monster and a joy to read. One slave who dared to try to escape is now literally ground under her foot every day, renamed as Nothing. Others aboard have taken on grotesque personalities due to the iron collars around their necks and the chains around their limbs. But fortune lends a hand, accompanied by desperate, determined violence, and once Yarvi and others of the enslaved crew escape, he learns the first of several valuable lessons about the nature of man, servitude and power. He also learns for the first time about friendship.

The journey across the Shattered Sea is a marvellous one, rich with perilous adventure, brotherhood, even the spark of romance, as one mystery after another is teased and unravelled. The strength of the characterisation is matched by the beauty and power of the mythology of this world. Its spirituality and greed are brilliantly developed, an enigmatic history hinted at. For me, the inhumanly built, ancient towering remains around the Shattered Sea were a reminder of the Roman ruins that fascinated Saxon travellers. The language, too, is vibrant and vivid and rich in colour and meaning.

In one distinct way, this is a society that stands out from our own ancient past. It is full of powerful women – from queens and captains to priests, navigators and householders. Kings and princes might still hold the sway in politics but in many ways this is a matriarchal society. The female characters are, for me, along with Yarvi himself, the highlight of Half a King.

I’m not a great reader of fantasy, usually preferring stories bound by history or science, but there is so much in Half a King that I could relate to, reminding me of Old English and Norse poems, and an ancient sea-tied society that had to make sense of its icy, harsh, feudal surroundings. There is no magic here, just a mythology, and no supernatural beings, just hints of a distant, forgotten elfish past. This is, I understand, Joe Abercrombie’s first Young Adult novel. Reading it, though, I would never have assumed it was for readers of any specific age – it has timeless appeal. There is also, thank heavens, much more to come.

HalfAKing 1

God of Vengeance by Giles Kristian

Publisher: Bantam Press
Pages: 416
Year: 2014
Buy: Hardback, Kindle, Paperback
Source: Review copy

God of Vengeance by Giles KristianReview
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.

Other reviews
The Raven trilogy – Blood Eye, Sons of Thunder, Odin’s Wolves
Civil War novels
The Bleeding Land
Brothers’ Fury

Raven – Giles Kristian’s Superb Norsemen Trilogy

More years ago than I care to number, I read an 8th-century Old English poem called The Ruin. In it, a traveller describes his emotional response to the Roman ruins of Bath, lamenting the destruction of its walls and the loss of the life they once contained. The poem has stayed with me ever since and I continue to be fascinated by thoughts of how Saxons in the middle and latter part of the first millennium AD related to (or used) the Roman ruins they would have seen around them. Similarly, on reading Beowulf, learning each of its lines, I was intrigued by the idea of early struggles between a newly established, and possibly fragile, Christianity and the powerful might of another set of gods threatening from the north.

Ironically, it’s possibly because of this deep interest in the literature of Saxons and Norse that I hadn’t read any historical fiction on this period. That is, until I went to English Heritage’s Festival of English History at Kelmarsh last month, met Giles Kristian and bought the first in his trilogy of Raven novels.

These books tell the tale of a young lad with a blood-red eye, unable to remember his name, family or birthplace, but taken in and named Osric by a mute carpenter in Wessex. Their lives are altered forever when some of the first Norsemen to raid English shores arrive. More than forty mighty men, bearded, encased in armour, arms wrapped in silver rings, shields wall-locked, swords and spears in hand, in search of honour and glory, destroy the village and Osric is taken prisoner.

Their jarl, Sigurd the Lucky, recognises that his fate is tied to that of the young lad with the blood eye. Others among his men, notably their godi Asgot, regard him as a harbinger of death. And with a raven’s wing sewn into his hair Osric becomes Raven. It’s not long before Raven, seated on his treasure chest, at his own oar aboard the dragon vessel Serpent, knows that he will follow Sigurd, his jarl, to the ends of the earth. Over the course of the three books, that’s a fair assessment of what Raven and the other wolves of Odin do.

Raven: Blood Eye follows Raven as he gets to know the men that will become his sword-brothers – Sigurd, Bram, Svein, Olaf, Black Floki and so many others. After being tricked by a Wessex ealdorman, Ealdred, the Norsemen are left with no choice but to leave their ships and head overland to Mercia to steal The Holy Gospels of St Jerome. Ealdred sends with them his priest, Egfrith. Once in Mercia, the wolves also discover Cynethryth, Ealdred’s daughter. From that moment, the battle for her soul and heart begins, while treachery also lies in wait for Sigurd and his pack.

In Raven: Sons of Thunder the Norsemen chase Ealdred to the land of the Franks and Charlemagne. Single combat – possibly the most exciting and vivid description of such a duel I’ve read in a book – combines with devious plots, scraps and battles as the wolf pack makes its way to Paris and beyond. Raven continues to prove himself in battle, tying himself closer to Sigurd and his warriors, which now include Wessex men and Danes. The journey of Cynethryth, however, is far more dangerous.

Finally, in Raven: Odin’s Wolves, there is no choice for men after silver and glory than to continue their journey around the edges of the world to Rome and Miklagard (Constantinople). They have it in their power to place an emperor back on his throne while winning untold riches and stories that will be sung around halls for generations. But silver and gold aren’t everything. The pull of mead and wine (as they grow accustomed to it), women, and glory in combat lead the men to stay in Rome, amongst the remnants and ruins of a city of giants. As the Norsemen learn the stories of the past might of Rome from Egfrith they seek to win their own glory in the arena of the Colosseum. But finally they must make their way further east to even more elaborate walls and palaces – and even more deviant foes. But the price is very high indeed.

To describe each of these three books is difficult. They are all excellent, brilliantly written, but each must be read in turn, leading up to the thrilling, dangerous and bloody climax for Raven and his sword-brothers. The descriptions of Rome and Constantinople in Odin’s Wolves are superb but so too are the scenes in Paris in Sons of Thunder and the depictions of early Norse encounters in Wessex in Blood Eye. Every bit as compelling as the battles are the scenes in which Christians, Muslims and Norse circle one another, with their different languages, beliefs, gods and values.

Giles Kristian is steeped in his Norse past and it’s not easy to know what to praise first – the little details that make this world seem real, the many characters, each with their own identity, failings and strengths, the dialogue, the resolute determination of this wolf pack, the mythology. These novels provide a fascinating depiction of life in 8th-century Europe – for rich and poor, men and women, Christian and heathen. You can smell the muck and the stench of life on the streets of these towns, in battle, in prisons, on the boats. The story is gripping, as is the prose. We are carried along on the wave of Sigurd’s ambition, just as his glory-hungry men are.

The skill of the Raven novels, though, is that Giles Kristian makes us like his wolf pack – more than like them. There is no shying away from the brutality of their lives – other life is cheap, women are there to rape or sell, paying respect to one’s enemy may well mean ripping the ribs from his spine and pulling his lungs through his back in a gruesome parody of the eagle. But these warriors have sworn an oath to their lord and they are tied to him and his mission. Their bravery, convinced that if they die with a sword in hand they will live through death to drink in Odin’s meadhall, cannot fail but to win over the reader. These Norsemen are terrifying and yet we are won over because we are put into their lives.

Raven describes another world, one very different from our own, and from the one that preceded it. Yet, reading these three books, you may as well close your eyes and smell and see Wessex, Paris, Moorish Spain, Rome, Constantinople and that other world that the wolf pack sing and dream of while in their cups or slashing their enemies with sword and axe.

Giles Kristian is next turning his attention to the English Civil War. I fully expect to be immersed in it.