Eric Schumacher, Hakon’s Saga: God’s Hammer. (New Chapter, 2019). E-book.
Eric Schumacher, Hakon’s Saga: Raven’s Feast. (New Chapter, 2019). E-book.
Eric Schumacher, Hakon’s Saga: War King. (New Chapter, 2019). E-book.
Most books I read and review for The Viking Archive are on my bookshelves. These three books have been offered to me by the author. Please note I do not charge or receive any compensation for the reviews. All opinions and views are my own. And here’s a spoiler alert, too…
This trilogy belongs to the genre of historical fiction and tells the story of Haakon the Good, a tenth-century Norwegian king. He is a historical figure who is mentioned in medieval chronicles, such as the Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson. The sources explain how his father, the legendary Harald Fairhair, sends the child Haakon to the court of king Æthelstan in England. Years later, Haakon returns to Norway, determined to fight his brother, Erik Bloodaxe, for the crown. After his victory, he rules as king of Norway until he meets his final destiny at the battle of Fitjar. There are plenty of gaps in the story that allow an author to unleash his own creativity. That is exactly what Eric Schumacher does and he has clearly studied the sources and period in great detail, for he offers plausible explanations for the moments not covered in the sagas.
Here is a set of action novels, or more precisely, historical action novels. The books have a lot of everything: politics and religion, love interests and enemies, and above all, action. The action scenes are fast-paced and lively and connect to an overall action plot of cause and effect. Here is a young boy’s quest for kingship that spirals into a chain of events leading to his death. The whole story revolves around Haakon, even the point of view. That allows the reader to experience everything the moment it happens or occurs to the protagonist. This structure also explains why some parts seem to be loose ends or lack a back story. Take for example Haakon’s friendship with prince Louis that is described in much detail in the first volume and then is never spoken of again. It serves a purpose at that point in Haakon’s life. Nothing more, nothing less.
In the Calm
In between all the action, the calmer moments can seem slow. There is a repetitiveness to them (”the next morning”, “the next day”) that is distracting. But these scenes are important for the context and have well-written dialogues that support the main story and Haakon’s character development. The supporting characters are a little flat, but fulfil their role of offering a counterweight to Haakon’s ideas on religion, statesmanship and friendship admirably. And as Haakon grows from a youth into an adult man, he also changes from a youngster with the hope and purpose of becoming the first Christian king of Norway, to the disillusioned, seasoned warrior who, in the end, needs to convince himself he hasn’t lost his faith. These calmer scenes, especially the ones with descriptions of the pagan rituals, are among the best in the books.
There is much to like about this trilogy. And its worth reading more than once. The first time, you’ll be hooked on the action scenes, the second time you’ll be grabbed by the rich details. What is satisfying, is that the storylines do not trail off into wild, unrealistic ideas. It stays true to the sagas and history and in effect, gives an interesting sense of medieval kingship in Scandinavia. How kings obtained and maintained their power by constantly travelling from one jarl to the other, to ensure their loyalty. Politics were complex then, too.
Much thought and attention for detail has gone into these books and that makes me want to keep an eye out for any new Viking Age novels from this author!
Verdict: a good read.