Thursday 2 August 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Viking Summer by Jen Black


Vikings 11th Century

Ms Black has a keen interest about the interaction between the Norsemen and the Gaelic people in the 11th century. Just as in her previous books set in this period, she delivers a well-researched and gripping tale, featuring a young female protagonist, Eilidh.

Due to her brother’s lawlessness, Eilidh has been taken hostage by Finlay of Alba, obliged to remain at his court until her brother pays a substantial fine. But Eilidh grows impatient and when her brother fails to show up on the set date she convinces two young men to help her “escape” Finlay’s court and return home. I must admit to finding this a little implausible as no well-bred woman of this century would ride off unchaperoned with two hot-bloods, and as to the two young men, Finlay is their king and they owe him obedience. However, Eilidh’s act of rebelliousness will come at a very heavy price as the little party of three is attacked by marauding Norsemen.

Soon enough, Eilidh finds herself in Dublin, there to marry the somewhat unstable Kimi Torkillson. Not that Eilidh wants to: no girl in her right mind wants to marry this young man who seems to enjoy hurting people. However, it is marry Kimi or be sold as a slave, so Eilidh is trapped between a rock and a hard place.

Leaving aside my concerns regarding the plot device that leads to Eilidh’s abduction, Viking Summer is a fast-paced and well-written story. Against the background of a vividly depicted 11th century Dublin, Eilidh’s new life takes a turn for the very exciting, even more so when Finlay and her brother show up, determined to somehow find her and free her.

I particularly like how Ms Black describes the religious ambiguity of the era. At times pagan, at other times more than willing to pray to St Patrick and other Christian saints, the Norsemen who have made Dublin their home are pragmatic in their relationship to the gods. They are also cunning traders and brave fighters, more than ready to die on behalf of their lord. Their world is at times very simple, more black and white than grey, but the Norsemen as Ms Black portrays them are no fools, as adept at playing the political game as they are at wielding their swords.

At times, Ms Black’s obvious love and knowledge of the period results in a little too much detailed information which does not move the story forward, however, she does present us with a nicely convoluted plot and a cast of well-developed characters, foremost among which Finlay of Alba makes a lasting impression.

For those in love with the Viking period, this is an excellent read, offering insight into the everyday life of a culture that is often depicted as merely violent but which was much more than that.

© Anna Belfrage

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