(translated by Michael Meyer)
This saga brings alive the world of the 10th century AD when the Vikings raided the coasts of England.
Acclaimed as one of the best historical novels ever written, this engaging saga of Viking adventure in 10th century northern Europe has a very appealing young hero, Orm Tostesson, whose story we follow from inexperienced youth to adventurous old age, through slavery and adventure to a royal marriage and the search for great treasure. Viking expeditions take him to lands as far apart as England, Moorish Spain, Gaardarike (the country that was to become Russia), and the long road to Miklagard. The salt-sea spray, the swaying deck awash in slippery blood are the backdrop to fascinating stories of King Harald Blue Tooth, the Jomsvikings, attempts to convert the Northmen to Christianity, and much else. Like H. Rider Haggard, Bengtsson is a master of the epic form.
This was to have been a shared read with Donald, but we didn't get very far. I think we were only 16 or 17% through the book (having skipped the introduction for fear of spoilers) when we decided that we just weren't that into this saga.
My main interest in the book was that it was about the Vikings and written by a Swede. Donald (my husband) is Swedish, so I thought this might be something we could both enjoy. I don't really know much about the Vikings, but obviously they're one of the more exciting parts of Scandinavian history, so I was curious.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that the book was boring, but it wasn't exactly gripping, either. You know that nothing too terrible will happen to Orm, since he's the hero of the saga and has to live at least until the end. That knowledge takes away much of the suspense you might otherwise feel on his behalf, which has a flattening effect.
However, I think what bothered me more was that the novel suffers from "Too Much Action Syndrome". It's just a fairly simple, straightforward cataloging of the events of a fictional character's life. "And then he did this, and then he did that, and then (after a spate of lackluster poetry) he did this other thing."
Aside from our hero and Krok (who does stand out, as the leader of the expedition), one character is hardly distinguishable from the next-- or at least we both had a hard time remembering who was who and what their names were. In keeping with the rest of the book, the characterization felt shallow.
There wasn't enough conversation, charm, and distinct personality (to suit my tastes). Maybe this changes for the better, later in the book, but we tired of waiting for more depth and color in the tale.
I'm disappointed that we didn't enjoy this more. It wasn't dreadful, but we weren't excited to keep reading. After my recent capitulation to the interminable The Far Pavilions (and the flood of elation that followed), I didn't hesitate to suggest that we could set this aside as a DNF, and so we did.
Maybe one or the other of us will try reading it with better luck, at some point in the future. If so, I suspect it will be Donald who conquers Red Orm; this has been another reminder that sagas really aren't for me.
Since I haven't come close to finishing it, I feel guilty giving it a star rating, but since goodreads seems to require that, I'll have to give two stars...