Sweden / Estonia
Bk 1 Olaf's Saga
I must say that as a Swede, it is quite a pleasure to immerse myself in Mr Schumacher’s vivid depictions of life in the Scandinavia of the 10th century. I have previously read and enjoyed his books featuring Haakon the Good and now Mr Schumacher has leapt forwards a couple of decades to introduce us to the very young Olaf Tryggveson, one of the more enigmatic characters in Norse history.
Forged By Iron follows Olaf and his sworn companion Torgil on the journey from childhood to manhood. It is not an easy journey: Olaf’s father is murdered and Torgil’s father, Torolv, masterminds a heads-over-heels escape to Sweden. From there, the plan is to travel to Novgorod, where Olaf has an uncle who can keep him safe. Unfortunately, things happen.
Suddenly, Torgil is as fatherless as Olaf and the boys, Olaf’s mother Astrid and her very young maid, Turid, are sold as slaves in Estland (present day Estonia) There, Astrid is torn from her son. Where she goes one way, the boys and Turid end up in the same household. Turid’s gender leads to years of servitude as a concubine while Olaf and Torgil are destined to spend their endless days as thralls working bog-iron. Such hard work either breaks a man or makes him stronger than most, hence, I assume, the title.
Forged By Iron is told in the point of view of Torgil who is some years older than Olaf. While he is oath-sworn to Olaf, Torgel doesn’t exactly like Olaf. Quite understandable, as Olaf is something of a spoiled brat who rarely considers the implications of his actions on others. Mr Schumacher paints a lovely and endearing portrait of Torgil, a boy who may not have the charisma of Olaf, but who is steadfast and courageous, even when he is scared silly. I was especially touched by the relationship between Torgil and Turid. Clumsy and awkward, Torgil doesn’t know what to say or do to make Turid overcome her abuse, but he is somehow still there for her—and she knows it.
All in all, this was an engrossing read. Pace would perhaps have benefited from more abbreviated descriptions of the whole bog iron process but it is evident Mr Schumacher has done the research required to recreate the world of a distant past. Torgil, Torolv, Olaf, Turid and Astrid come alive as does their historical setting—which is why I forgive Mr Schumacher for that teensy weensy anachronistic potato.
Warmly recommended for Viking fans and for all those who enjoy a well-wrought coming-of-age story.
© Anna Belfrage