1043 AD. Orphan boys, Bjarke and Hakon, become foster sons to the Norse Jarl, Eysteinn Orri.Growing to manhood in eleventh century Norway, the boys hunting exploits will help prepare them to become warriors under their King, Harald Sigurdsson (Hardrada) 1066 AD. The year of three battles in England; Fulford, Stamford and Hastings find the Norse and the Normans fighting the Saxons for the right to the throne. Kings, Norse Jarls and English Earls will die, along with thousands of men as a real life “Game of Thrones” plays out in early autumn of that year.As great men plan and wage war in the pursuit of power, the ordinary men like Bjarke, Hakon and Fenrir their huge Elkhound, will step into fleeting fame and history as the year of Saxon England’s conquest unfolds. Paying the price as they stand in the shieldwall amidst spear thrusts, sword strokes and axe blows, they fight for their Lord.
This book is a refreshing look at the other side. Yes, the Norse were the invaders. They might have conquered England if things had gone differently—if Harold Godwinson hadn’t been so quick to stop them in their tracks, or if they hadn’t been caught mostly without their armor. But they also fought for their king, the powerful and indomitable Harald Hardrada. That’s what vassals did. Our protagonists were depicted as flesh-and-blood people, with hopes and loves and families rather than the usual wicked invaders. They certainly got the worst of the deal at Stamford Bridge!
The early part of the book took place in Norway as our heroes, the foster sons of Jarl Eysteinn Orri, grew to manhood. Of course we know that Bjarke and Hakon will end up fighting at Stamford Bridge, and the charm of the story is their innocence. We are especially drawn to the huge but kindly Bjarke, who would rather be a farmer than a fighter. Because I knew the background of the future battle, I was deliciously surprised when Bjarke the was unwillingly read his fortune by a local seer. She said:
Kings and Jarls will lie down with men. … Both Angels and the Valkyrie will fly, gathering the brave. … Brother will fight brother but the raven, the dragon and the fighting man will give way to the leopard of gold. … Bifröst, the burning rainbow bridge will choke with those seeking the Gods. … The bear that heeds the hunter will not fall but the bear that doesn’t, will into the river fall. …The bridge, the bridge, linger not on the bridge.
Aha! That explains the cover. I knew who Bjarke was. And, although I won’t “spill the beans”, you can be sure that before the end of the book you will have worked it out, too. Garrett has incorporated his fictional characters convincingly into the events that defined the year 1066. Even the most fearsome warriors were men one would have been proud to call friends, and we even see this happening as former enemies patch up their differences and meet their common enemy, William the Bastard. For we are reminded that the defenders of England were descended from former invaders, not too many generations before. It all tied together into a satisfying package for me, even though you can’t change an unhappy conquest.
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