9th century Vikings
This is a sharply satirical romp through the ninth century, a time when the heathen Danes were plundering, pillaging and raping their way through the various kingdoms of a nascent Christian England. The Angles, the Saxons, the Mercians, and various other kingdoms all fell to the battle-hardened invaders in their long boats. The book tells the unlikely, but hilarious, tale of a duplicitous monk called Conrad and his innocent companion, Brother Odo, as they struggle to remain alive and free while all around them are losing their heads or are being sold into slavery.
From the very first page, we are presented with a medieval version of Blackadder and Baldrick with a series of (cunning) plans; there’s simply no other way of describing these two characters and the colourful language used to tell their story. The tale is woven around a maguffin in the shape of a holy book, bound in gold and encrusted with jewels, which the Christians must save from the Danes, while Conrad schemes to keep it for himself. I found the book amusing throughout, if a little over-scatological at times. This quote illustrates the satire running through the book. Coming from Ireland, it rang a note of veracity with me:
“He was touched with the same lunacy that drove the monks from Ireland to cast themselves on to the sea in a boat with no oars, that the Lord might take them where he would, be that a new land at waters’ end or the long prayer with the fishes of the deep.”
For me, the irredeemable nature of Conrad, the not-so-lovable rogue, was a little disappointing – consistent, but disappointing. The story would have been more satisfying if Conrad had exhibited the smallest vestige of empathy at the end. The language is cleverly medieval while eminently readable. However, I learned quite a few new words, like seax, scop and aetheling. As to the story’s historical content, the author notes at the end make a case for a solid historical framework. I am not qualified to comment, although he sounded convincing.
I look forward to more of Conrad and Odo’s adventures.
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