28 March 2009

Book Review, Axe of Iron: The Settlers

A glorious morning has dawned over my portion of the Rocky Mountains. I hope your day is good, too.

The following review just came in from Donald Hansen, Owner and CEO of Viking Trader, Issaquah, Washington USA. I like it and I hope you do as well.
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Full disclosure: The Vikings were frequent visitors in our Danish house. Mor-mor, my grandmother, told me many stories and read to me from the Icelandic Sagas (the farmer, poet, warrior Egil Skallagr√≠msson remains my favorite). Norway’s King Erik Bloodaxe fascinated me (not just because his mother was Danish) as he could hold a Viking axe at arm’s length and cleave a man in two. Not the stuff of H.C. Andersen and, perhaps, a curious way to instill a sense of wonder in a youngster!

Nonetheless, that sense persists as I still study the many-dimensioned Viking Age. I enliven my lectures on Viking culture and history with stirring scenes from the literature (avoiding the melodramatic and Wagnerian). But I believe that it’s not so much the role of history as that of fiction to present the essence of folks going about their quotidian affairs. And even as a child, I wanted to know what the world was like for my forebears, how they led their lives; fought battles; feasted and fasted; explored; settled; accommodated harsh weather, and how they related to religion, family, friends and comrades. As every nation has its uses of the past so do readers of historical novels.

And so I approached the novel Axe of Iron The Settlers by J.A. Hunsinger. Would this be yet another romance of indomitable, noble heroes conquering all challenges? In short, no. There is daring, as there was in their lives. But here it is balanced with believable dramatic events plus the conflict between good and evil which characterized their culture. Hunsinger sometimes uses archaic language, which puts a helping of “time and place” on the table (although he has one character make unlikely mention of the year 1008). And he did his Viking Age homework, skillfully weaving it into the vivid fabric of the story. It must be said that these were people of the Viking Age with their culture and traditions, but not the daring Vikings of raid and trade. His characters found great stress in their situation in Greenland owing to a hostile climate and unceasing competition for arable land. As is so eloquently stated in Njal’s Saga: “Farmers fought.” They fought each other, the elements and the unyielding land, and so Hunsinger’s characters of the Viking Age started on the arduous venture of exploration into another life in new lands.

We become well-acquainted with the main characters and minor characters swell the scenes including credible and fierce villains. I confess to re-reading pages to recall the characters, but then became more involved in their lives, interactions and thoughts. I wanted to know how their stories would play out. And play out they did in a carefully-crafted, somewhat involved but always engrossing plot. I recall the English master E.M. Forster’s definition of the novel: “Yes – oh dear yes – the novel tells a story.” And Axe of Iron tells a story, an enthralling, believable story.

We are able to suspend our disbelief as Hunsinger rolls out his story, although I could have wished for several other Viking Age activities, e.g., more references to the Norse gods, especially Odin as the god of poetry (recitations being the Viking’s favorite sport); women’s strong role as housewives, mothers & mistresses. But these are not weaknesses in the plot and there’s just so much room in an otherwise tight story.

Jerry Hunsinger has achieved a depth of detail and an expanse of action in Axe of Iron and I recommend this adventurous tale to those interested in the Viking Age, to those who seek historical fiction, and to those who want just a good read. From routine sailing scenes, and thrilling yet convincing scenes of ships in storms, it’s obvious that Jerry knows the rigors of sailing. And I feel that the “stage machinery” carefully wrought by the author will draw the reader into the plot, react to the strong characters and lead us along the story’s path.

I look forward to the next novel in Hunsinger’s planned 5 book series. And I wonder if they could be the subject of an epic motion picture taking us back centuries before the classic Swedish film The Emigrants?

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