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Lowe: Just the start of a thrilling ride

The Half Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

The Half Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker


Published August 1/17, HarperCollins

448 pages

Reviewed by Kirsten Lowe

It was a time of bloodshed, ongoing war over land titles and territories, and sheer brutality in the late ninth century. Ragnvald “Rags” and his sister, Svanhild, live under their distasteful step-father’s rule. Rags’ grandfather was Ivar, Jarl of the land, who had been a powerful man. But Rags’ father, Eystein, was more of a drinker and self-centered man which got him killed. When Rags comes of age, Olaf (stepfather) decides that he’d rather remain Jarl instead of handing over the land and Rags’ family inheritance to him. Now he just needs to dispose of the siblings.

He forces Svanhild to marry one of his old, disgusting friends. While Rags is returning from a raid, Solvi murders him – or so everyone believes. He survives and returns to his home in Norway to learn that Solvi was paid off by Olaf to make sure Rags never returns. Rags is now cut off from home, torn away from his sister and his sweetheart Hilda. Determined to have his revenge and reclaim his family fortunes, opportunity comes in the form of the young military prodigy King Harald Fairhair. As Rags pledges his sword, he has no idea of the lasting consequences his choice will make.

In the meantime, Solvi wants to have Svanhild as his wife. Not only is she married by Svanhild will have nothing to do with the man who attempted to kill her brother – or will she? Her current marriage is unbearable, and Solvi maybe her only option to freedom. All characters in this book are unique, flawed, brash and all sympathetic in their own way. This balance makes the novel realistic – people (even those we view as heroes) did not always have the perfectly orchestrated happily ever after and that every choice has a price.

A vividly told Viking/Norwegian tale and the first book of what will be a trilogy, this is a well-researched historical fiction prose with compelling characters and unbelievable descriptions. Murder plots, family conflicts, raids, warring kings, women who carve out space for power in a patriarchal system – so many threads woven together to start the beginning of one intense trilogy.

Kirsten Lowe studies at Athabasca University.