Death was never as glorious in real life as in the songs, he mused. There was nothing heroic about it, really. You were just alive, and then you were blood and meat and bones in a slightly different order.
Ulfar Thormodsson is ready to go back home after two years in exile with his cousin Geiri. The last stage of their journey takes them to Stenvik, which is where their adventure really begins, contrary to their plans. Stenvik might be just a small place, but it is inhabited by a few legendary warriors. As life goes on in Stenvik, a storm is brewing not so far away, but no one in the settlement realises that soon, Stenvik is going to be the stage of the tug-of-war between the old gods and the new one.
There are three parts in this power game – King Olav and his ever growing army of misfits on the way to spread Christianity and the teachings of White Jesus, an assembly of legendary chieftains with their small armies, and Stenvik. Even though there are a lot of characters, and it might seem that there are no leading ones, all of them are very well written. They have their place in the story and none of them seems flat or as if they were written just for the body count. Just because the characterisation is so vivid, the story is very dynamic.
Apart from Ulfar, Audun Arinbjarnarson is one of the most intriguing characters – there’s so much more to him than his role of the blacksmith of Stenvik. It turns out even the most powerful warriors have their secrets. I need to mention a group of Berserkers – warriors with very fierce tempers for whom fighting is like anger management. They were utterly fascinating. Unfortunately, there are not many female characters. There are a couple of them which are vital to the story, but maybe because of the way the book is written they do not take much part in it. Thora is a really cool, badass warrior and Skuld, an enigmatic leader behind the force of one of the powers.
All the battles are epic and really bloody. Some brawls and battles are very graphic, but we are talking here about Vikings, so it can be expected. Snorri’s language flawlessly moves from small battles to the big ones without it all becoming just one book of carnage. He has a flair for killing off the characters and what I like in his writing is his matter-of-factly way of moving on.
What I loved about the book, apart from the total Viking havoc, was the way the author portrayed life in Stenvik. He was able to write such an engrossing account of the life in the settlement. Stenvik is full of warriors where over-ambitious testosterone levels of locals and visitors alike are kept in check by Harald – the village fist mercenary. Besides battle business, there is a more pragmatic view of Stenvik – the view of what it’s like to live in a community of raiders. With the gradual introduction to Christianity, some people are torn between the new god and those, like Odin, Freya, Thor and Loki, whom they used to worship – perhaps even debating what their role in life might be and how it relates to their belief system. Where most unusual friendships, awkward alliances and grave enemies are formed, Swords of Good Men has both puppets and their masters – some are mere zealous humans, others are more sinister and even supernatural. There are not many elements of fantasy in the book and those few that are, are subtly woven into the story.
Swords of Good Men is written in a very riveting way – there are a lot of points of view. Some readers might find it disjointed and distracting, especially that there are a lot of characters introduced from the very beginning. However, I found it surprisingly refreshing. It definitely suits the plot where sudden changes of perspective are like bursts of chaotic energy which I found invigorating. It almost works like sudden changes of scenes in the films where there’s a lot of action happening and the story cannot be presented only from one angle. I think Swords of Good Men could be a great film.
Snorri’s writing is very engaging – very vibrant and realistic. It is an action filled book with a heart stopping plot and adrenaline fuelled battle scenes. Swords of Good Men is Snorri Kristjansson’s debut, but it’s so well written that it is hard to believe. I’m ready to read the next book in the Valhalla Saga: Blood Will Follow. All readers that love this kind of action packed books go and get your copy – you won’t regret it. Happy reading!
Author: Snorri Kristjansson
Title: Swords of Good Men
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Published: August 1, 2013 (UK)
Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.