Northlanders Book 1: The Anglo-Saxon Saga by Brian Wood, Davide Gianfelice, Ryan Kelly, Marian Churchland. Vertigo, 2016. 9781401263317. 464 pages of Viking goodness.
Gene: This is the book I sent Chris Hallbeck for his birthday in November, and I realized I wanted to reread it — maybe it was that seeing Mads Mikkelsen in the new Star Wars movie reminded me of the quiet, brutal fights in the first 30 minutes of Valhalla Rising, or the fact that I’ve been trying to get into Neil Gaiman’s book of Norse mythology. And I just read Black Road, which is the newest installment in Brian Wood’s Vikingverse, and I want more.
This book isn’t about the same characters all the time, though some come and go. It’s an easy readalike for the TV show Vikings. It’s the book I want to give anyone who falls for Marvel’s perfectly coiffed Thor.
It has a beautiful old map, which shows where the stories take place — all not too far from Scotland or Ireland. Where’s Danish Mercia? Right there. I had no idea.
The first story starts in 868 AD. There’s a kid whose dad is a Christian and is always down on him — I think they live in abbey. The kid gets pissed. When the Vikings come ashore to raid, he meets them and goes, “It’s this way.”
Gene: That has nothing to do with the next story — three women escape when Vikings murder everyone in their town. They go to an old fort on the sea where they hold off the Vikings.
Gene: (I worry that I use the word “brutal” in my reviews too much these days because that describes everything I’m reading and enjoying. Not sure what that says about where my head is…)
The next story is about a guy named Sven who is returning to the Orkneys. Somehow he ended up in Turkey, and he’s working as a guard there, living the good life. He finds out his father died and he wants his inheritance, so he goes back home. He looks like a fancy fop, especially to the Vikings, but he completely kicks ass. Back home, no one wants to see him. There’s violence. He finds the woman he once loved, who is with the guy in charge of the village, and falls in with another who is fighting a one-woman guerilla war against the Vikings. And he tries to get his stuff back while getting revenge.
Sarah: I enjoy a good revenge story.
Gene: And then there’s a one-issue story from the comic, drawn by Marian Churchland…
Sarah: That’s gorgeous!
Gene: …about a small young woman whose father is the big man in town. After he dies, she has to figure out how to survive because nobody respects her. She’s always been her father’s daughter. She has to figure out her place and who she is.
The last story takes place in Viking occupied Ireland in 1014. There’s a badass warrior on the loose, killing Vikings, and he has a little girl with him, his daughter. The Viking King’s right hand man is hunting him, along with a bunch of dogs and grizzled warriors. Man vs. dog. Man vs. human. Hacking and slashing. And then there’s a beautiful turn in the story that’s awful for the character…
But all I need to say is “Vikings!” right?
Sarah: Yeah. But the way you talked about it there was a lot of story and character complexity, and I think people that like those HBO destination TV series full of all the guts would like this.
Gene: Would you pitch it as a Game of Thrones readalike?
Sarah: Yeah. Not that I’ve watched or read GOT.
Gene: What’s your one sentence booktalk of this?
Sarah: If you like HBO….
Gene: If you like really violent, old timey shows…
Sarah: Old is new again.
Gene: But it’s not a readalike for Westworld. You’re probably not watching that either.
Gene: Robot humping! You’re missing out.
Sarah: I know! Fanfiction-wise, I should be watching it.