Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: Harald Hardrada: The Last Viking by Michael Burr

In the dead of night, a band of Vikings ravage a lonely convent on the Brittany coast –and their fearsome leader makes a decision that will eventually lead to his downfall.

Ranulf de Lannion is fifteen years old. Crippled, deformed and abandoned by his family to the charity of the convent, he is seized by the Vikings during a midnight raid. Contemptuously nicknamed 'The Scraeling" by his captors, his future appears grim.

Harald Sigurdsson, or 'Hardrada' as he will come to be known, is the leader of the Viking band. A violent mercenary with designs on the throne of Norway, Hardrada abducts The Scraeling on a whim.

Ranulf grows into an invaluable asset, smoothing Hardrada's path over their thirty-five years together from mercenary to commander of the Varangian Guard, all the way to king of Norway.

But all is not as it seems in the heart of Ranulf de Lannion. Having sworn secret revenge upon Hardrada for the murders at the convent, he vows to end the day of the Viking forever. When the king of Norway launches an attack against the Anglo-Saxon throne of England in 1066, what role will The Scraeling play in bringing the age of the Viking to an end?

Thank you to Knox Publishing for allowing me to read Harald Hardrada in exchange for an honest review.

Somewhere along the way in my history education, I managed to miss learning about Harald Hardrada, or it's possible I've totally forgotten about him.  This novel served to teach me everything I ever want to know about the man, the legend, the Viking.

This is not a history book, it's a fictionalized account of Hardrada's life with interspersed commentary by Ranulf (the Scraeling) who was supposedly kidnapped during the raid on the convent.  The narrative switches between the third person, giving factual details of Harald's life along with suppositions from the author, and first person commentaries by the Scraeling.  At first, I found the switches rather disconcerting and felt it made the story choppy, but I got used to it.  One thing I never got used to or enjoyed was the portents of doom that the Scraeling would interject.  He'd say things like Hardrada didn't know this was the last time (insert event here).  I don't mind a bit of foretelling in a story, but it was done several times.  I'd rather just read what actually happened than be told ahead of time.

Michael Burr, the author, did a great job characterizing Harald and the other Vikings.  They were a brutal bunch and Burr didn't pull any punches in his writing.  There were fairly graphic rapes and copious bloody battle scenes.  

The Scraeling, though a fictional character, was given great depth.  He had been taken in by nuns and taught their peaceful ways, but once with Hardrada, he had to learn to be ruthless to survive.  His keen intelligence and swift learning of battle tactics made him invaluable to the Viking barbarians.

There was a lot of use of foreign words in different languages throughout the book.  This made it difficult for me to keep the story flowing as I read.  I'd forget what a particular word meant, or it may not have been translated, so I'd have to re-read some sentences to make sure I understood.

I enjoyed the history lesson I received as I read this book.  It didn't feel like a lesson, it was definitely an action-packed novel.  Make sure to grab this book to learn about the last Viking king and the end of the Viking Age.

I give this book 3 Bookworms.

Paperback/Hardback:  416 pages
Publisher:  Knox Robinson Publishing (December 8, 2011)
ISBN-10:  0956790119
ISBN-13:  978-0956790118

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