I love Vikings. Whether as raiders or peaceful traders the Viking society is a fascinating one. Once Norse religion and mythology is added in then I’m in a very happy place. The Vikings in Swords of Good Men are drawn into a battle between the old gods and the new, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Caught in the middle is Ulfar, travelling companion and cousin of the heir to Svealand, Geiri. The pair is on the last leg of their tour meeting with other chieftains. The town of Stenvik doesn’t look to have all that much to recommend it at first sight, and the locals are not exactly welcoming. Unfortunately, things get much worse as it becomes the focus of two very different but equally ruthless and dangerous fighters.
Sailing towards Stenvik is Skargrim, led by Skuld, a woman representing the Norse gods. Their mission is to halt the progress of the White Christ, and wipe out its adherents from Viking soil. In practice this means going up against King Olaf Tryggvason and his pressganged troops. Both leaders use violence and intimidation, as well as channelling the power of their deities. Both are best avoided, but sadly this is not an option for Ulfar or for the people of Stenvik.
Ulfar has no choice but to stand with the town and fight, but choosing whom to trust within the town’s walls is not easy. Sigurd, the chief, and his right-hand man Sven are a formidable unit. Harald is a great brute of a man with no obvious redeeming qualities. Valgard is a healer, well skilled in his art, as is Audun the blacksmith. Both men have dark secrets they’d rather stayed well hidden. But, desperate times force the true nature of men out from the darkness.
The story moves perspective between the town and the invading forces, and I admit that occasionally I had trouble keeping track of who was where doing what. The scenes in the town always captured my attention though, and there are several interesting storylines about loyalty, allegiance and truth there that echo the much larger tensions outside this one community. Ulfar is an appealing young man, with his charm, looks and wit. He is made of heroic stuff; a sense of personal morality that’s aligned with the times and yet just a little bit more noble than your average chap. Harald acts as a great foil for Ulfar. He’s an excellent raider, every bit the Viking warrior, but doesn’t know when or how to leave his brutishness at the door.
There are some bloody and gruesome fight scenes that I enjoyed enormously! I liked the inventive defence tactics very much. I also liked the subterfuge and the twists that revealed themselves. Swords of Good Men is the first part of the Valhalla Saga, and there is a suitably exciting ending. Well, two endings really, one to make your eyes widen and the other to make you shake your head as you discover just how slippery some folk can be. I’m not going to call it a cliffhanger ending because one story has ended; it’s just that another one is about to begin. I’m signing myself up right now to part two because I think Ulfar has a long way still to go before he can return home.
Thank you Jo Fletcher for sending me a proof copy of Swords of Good Men. The book is available now in paperback.