The opening of this debut novel captures a vivid scene. Ragnvald is dancing the oars aboard the ship he has been serving on for the whole journey to and from the North Sea. This moment of light relief suddenly turns deadly when the captain of the ship, Solvi, attacks him without warning, leaving him to die in the icy ocean.
From this point on, the novel follows the plight of Ragnvald – rescued by a fisherman from the sea, and intent on justice or revenge – and his sister Svanhild, back in the village, who will have to submit to marriage to someone of her stepfather’s choosing in the near future.
Linnea Hartsuyker captures Viking-Age Norway at a challenging time in history – where there are a hundred petty rulers who are happy to kill to keep claim parcels of land, and there are allegiances, plots and counterplots. There is also prophesied that a high king is rising.
Linnea is descended to King Harold Fairhair, and she has clearly taken great interest in her famous ancestor from so long ago, and the book is obviously well-researched. But the research doesn’t get in the way of her creating strong characters with her brother and sister protagonists, and also that of Solvi, who becomes a pivotal character for both Ragnvald and Svanhild, even though it creates conflict between the siblings. The book blurb promises a book that is a ‘Viking Game of Thrones’ and in many ways, this is a good comparison. There is lots of action, violence and battles, although it is not as raunchy as the TV series, there is certainly affairs of the heart at centre stage.
The Half-Drowned King captures a fascinating time in Scandinavian history, and it certainly reveals what life would have been like. The seafaring, farming and warring elements of their society are all there, as well as the restricted role of women, often destined to be political pawns. It’s the first of a new trilogy, and it will appeal to readers who like historical fiction or epic fantasy.