Thursday 26 January 2017

Nautical Week : GLENDALOUGH FAIR & NIGHT WOLF by James L. Nelson

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Adventure / Saga
Norseman Saga #4

The last vestiges of winter blanket Vík-lo at the opening of the fourth book in the Norsemen Saga. Thorgrim Nightwolf is lord, and soon he and his men will launch their new longships. But some of his cooped-up men spoil for action. Chief amongst them is Kjartan Thorolfson, who stages a fight with the intention of killing Thorgrim. The timely arrival of Kevin mac Lugaed interrupts Kjartan’s plans, but Thorgrim intends to deal with the traitor just as soon as the Irishman leaves.

The uneasy alliance Kevin has forged with Thorgrim allows the two peoples to coexist, but Kevin wants to be rid of all Norsemen. In doing so, he will gain more land and greater power. To initiate his plan, he proposes that Thorgrim and his men join with the Irish to raid Glendalough Fair, an annual gathering of merchants and villagers near a monastery. Both offer rich, tempting targets that are ill-defended.

Louis de Roumois chafes at being a novitiate in the monastery. He’s a soldier, who spent the past four years fighting the Danes, but his popularity with his men made his elder brother wary and jealous. Although Louis had no desire to rule Frankia, his brother exiled him to Glendalough to take holy vows. Instead, he spends more time bedding the wife of Colman mac Breanclan, the wealthiest man in town. Colman knows of the dalliance, and when a priest tasks Louis with leading the Irish in defending the village and monastery against the Norsemen, but under the nominal command of Colman, problems ensue. Further complicating Louis’s life is the fact that someone wants him dead.

Thorgrim doesn’t trust the Irish, but he agrees to Kevin’s proposal. On the morrow when they are to depart, Thorgrim discovers Kjartan and his men have taken one longship and disappeared during the night. He intends to have his day of reckoning with Kjartan, but it must wait until after the raid. On the way to where they are to meet Kevin and his men, they come across a burning village where everyone has been slain. The killing seems senseless and doesn’t set well with Thorgrim because the villagers had nothing to steal. Then Kjartan reappears and he is afraid. He claims not to know who slaughtered the Irish, but Thorgrim knows he’s lying. He learns why when they reach Kevin’s camp and discovers the Irishman has also allied with another group of Norsemen. They are led by Ottar Bloodax, who likes killing. It soon becomes evident that Ottar is untrustworthy and Kevin can’t control him. When the men of Glendalough launch a surprise attack on the encampment, Thorgrim begins to rue ever getting involved with Kevin’s scheme, but it’s too late to turn back.

Glendalough Fair is a novel of deception, betrayal, and honor. The various storylines are intricately woven, and while how they will intersect isn’t initially obvious, they come together seamlessly to realistically depict life in Ireland during the Viking Era. While the water scenes are minimal, the raid is portrayed with ingenuity that shows how much Thorgrim’s son has matured during the course of this series. Readers will gloss over the occasional misspellings or missing words, because this riveting and gritty tale is told so vividly it unfolds in the mind’s eye like a movie playing on the big screen. Fans of Thorgrim and his men will relish this latest saga and eagerly await their fifth adventure.

 ©2016 Cindy Vallar

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Nautical / adventure / saga
Viking era
Norseman Saga #5

Two hundred men dead. One betrayer. One deserter. A lone longship. Guilt gnaws at Thorgrim Night Wolf, for leading his men into the bloody slaughter, and honor demands satisfaction. But revenge must wait until the ten remaining survivors of the battle at Glendalough have repaired themselves and Sea Hammer. The sheltered sandbar is a good spot to do both, even though it is far from a secure place to stay with Irish men-at-arms still hunting them. And what should be done with their two prisoners– the Frank named Louis de Roumois and an Irish woman named Failend – who asked to go with them? Why do they flee their own kind? And what’s in the small chest they hide?

Rage, confusion, and fear swirl within Lochlánn mac Ainmire. The man he most admired and trusted, Louis de Roumois, has abandoned him. Plus Louis murdered one of their soldiers, possibly killed another man, and has run away with the second man’s wife. Justice demands satisfaction, and Lochlánn is determined to see Louis doesn’t escape. If he encounters more Northmen, so much the better, so with twenty men-at-arms, he hunts them all.

After twenty-five, ragtag Irishmen step from the woods near Thorgrim, he knows his men are outnumbered and in no condition to fight again. Two men step forward – one a giant with more brawn than brains, and the other a shorter, red-haired man who whispers to his companion as if giving him advice. With only one way to win this confrontation, Thorgrim challenges the giant to a duel. Hardened by many battles and more intelligent than his opponent, he toys with the Irishman before slaying him.

Without consulting the remaining Irishmen, Cónán assumes command and prepares to depart because he’s savvy enough to abide by the rules of the challenge. But Thorgrim offers him a tempting proposition. If the Irish stay and help Thorgrim sack the monastery at Glendalough, Thorgrim will provide them with weapons and armor, as well as a share of the plunder. He might not trust these Irish bandits, but he needs them.

When Aghen Ormsson of Vik-ló first spots the returning longships, he senses no trouble. But Thorgrim isn’t with the Northmen who alight. Ottar Bloodax claims the former lord of Vik-ló is dead and declares himself the new ruler of the Viking longport. He trusts only a handful of his men and rules by terrorizing those under him. The more Aghen learns, the more he believes Thorgrim isn’t dead and that belief is strengthened when a lone wolf appears inside the walls one night. Knowing Ottar is a superstitious man, Aghen acts on that fear. One by one Ottar’s elite corps is killed and the evidence points to the lone wolf – the shape changer Thorgrim who stalks at night.

Night Wolf, the fifth book in The Norsemen Saga, is an intricately woven tale of betrayal and revenge. Violence remains a key element of this story and the time period, yet Thorgrim, Cónán, and Aghen rely more on ingenuity and knowledge than their fighting expertise in the encounters with their enemies. This adds depth to the characters and shatters the stereotypical portrayals of Norse and Irish alike. Readers who haven’t read the previous volume, Glendalough Fair, won’t have any trouble following what happens in the aftermath of that disaster, but reading that title first may enrich the experience of Night Wolf. Like the tales of old told by an Irish seanachaidh or a Norse skaldNight Wolf lures readers into its web and holds them spellbound until the story ends.

 ©2016 Cindy Vallar

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