The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

The Half-Drowned King

Since the death of Ragnvald Eysteinsson's father in battle, he has worked hard to protect his sister Svanhild and planned to inherit his family's land when he comes of age. But when the captain of his ship tries to kill him on the way home from a raiding excursion, he must confront his stepfather's betrayal, and find a way to protect his birthright. It is no easy feat in V...

Title:The Half-Drowned King
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0062563696
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:448 pages

The Half-Drowned King Reviews

  • Sandy

    3.5 stars

    When I read the description for this book my first thought was “Gimme!”, for a couple of reasons. I’ve done a lot of family genealogical research & was intrigued to find that some of my dodgy ancestors began life in Norway before taking a wrong turn & landing on the shores of Scotland in the 15th century. Men…just will not ask for directions. But suddenly I understood why I’ve always wanted a helmet with horns. It’s genetic.

    The other thing that caught my eye were comparisons mad

    3.5 stars

    When I read the description for this book my first thought was “Gimme!”, for a couple of reasons. I’ve done a lot of family genealogical research & was intrigued to find that some of my dodgy ancestors began life in Norway before taking a wrong turn & landing on the shores of Scotland in the 15th century. Men…just will not ask for directions. But suddenly I understood why I’ve always wanted a helmet with horns. It’s genetic.

    The other thing that caught my eye were comparisons made to “Game of Thrones”, “Vikings” & “Outlander”, 3 epic tales that sweep you off your feet & drop you firmly in the muck & mayhem of the past. More on this later.

    In this first of a trilogy, we’re introduced to Ragnvald Eysteinsson & his sister Svanhild. The story begins with Ragnvald aboard a ship that is returning home from a raid. Instead of a warm welcome, someone tries to kill him on orders from his stepfather Olaf. Ragnvald stands to inherit a sizeable inheritance from his deceased father but Olaf has other plans. It’s a pivotal moment that sets in motion everything that follows as Ragnvald seeks to regain his birthright & give Svanhild a better life.

    The story is based on sagas of King Harald that were written in the 13th century & it’s obvious the author has done extensive research. Settings are atmospheric & rich in cultural detail. You gain a great sense of how these people lived & what they believed. This is the book’s strong point & what I enjoyed most. Unfortunately, the main characters fared less well. There is something missing that I have trouble putting my finger on…depth or passion…that prevents them from becoming fully fleshed out. My other issue was with pacing. You’d expect a bit of a roller coaster, ranging from the mundane of everyday life to epic battles but oddly enough there’s not much difference between how these are portrayed. Maybe that’s the point. Whether you’re having dinner or engaged in swordplay, it’s all in a day’s work if you’re a viking.

    Hence the problem with comparing it to the 3 series above. Because of the bold & colourful characters in those stories, you become deeply invested in their fates & feel a range of emotion that places you firmly in the grip of the narrative. Here, due to the author’s impressive knowledge of period detail, the setting often outshines the characters. I was also hoping for the inclusion of more Norse mythology as it was a significant influence on their belief system but that’s a minor personal quibble.

    As always, it comes down to what you look for in a story & there are plenty of readers (and fans of the series mentioned above) who have given this high marks. So if you’re in the mood for some old fashioned raiding, give it a go. The good news is there are 2 more in the works. Oh, and the helmets? Turns out there’s next to no evidence any self respecting viking would’ve been caught dead in one. Great….anyone want to buy a set of horns?

  • Will Byrnes

    Ragnvald Eysteinsson (hereafter referred to as Rags, with apologies to Dave Righetti, although Hartsuyker pronounces it

    , so Ron might have worked better) is a pretty decent young man, by the measures of the time. Young (20), strong, lithe, and happy to be on a raiding mission with the impressive Captain Solvi, a Loki-type figure. Rags has been a productive member of the crew and is having a good time as the mission nears its end. Downside is that Solvi had been biding his time until the

    Ragnvald Eysteinsson (hereafter referred to as Rags, with apologies to Dave Righetti, although Hartsuyker pronounces it

    , so Ron might have worked better) is a pretty decent young man, by the measures of the time. Young (20), strong, lithe, and happy to be on a raiding mission with the impressive Captain Solvi, a Loki-type figure. Rags has been a productive member of the crew and is having a good time as the mission nears its end. Downside is that Solvi had been biding his time until the right moment, which has now arrived, and Rags is unceremoniously tossed into the chilly waters of the ninth century North Sea. One might be tempted to say the waters off Norway, but the formation of that state had yet to take place and the beginnings of that process constitute one of the centerpieces of this novel.

    - from her Twitter pages

    Rags, the legitimate heir to his family’s land, had come to this aqueous situation as a result of an unfortunate turn in his lineage. Grandfather Ivar had been a king (

    ) on his land. Of course, you could hardly swing a battleaxe without dinging one of these petty kings, with their relatively small holdings. But Ivar’s son, Rags’s father, Eystein, had been a boaster and drinker, which left him dead and his land, and family in the hands of the singularly unpleasant Olaf. Rags about to arrive at his majority, Olaf preferred to remain

    of this particular realm by paying to have his stepson disinherited with extreme prejudice. Problem is, Rags survives. Awkward.

    The late ninth century was a time of ongoing conflict (and which time isn’t?), in which the petty kings (did not make that up, that

    what they were called) engaged in frequent conflict to seize or defend land. Consolidate here, lose a bit there. It gets tiresome, all this warfare. But then this kid, Harald Hårfagre (Fairhair), shows up. Teenager, military prodigy, master of Mixed Viking Arts. Has a clever uncle to help guide him, and a big dream. He wants to unite the myriad kingdoms into an actual nation, Norway. (The seven kingdoms?) It seems there is this trend going on at the time, of smaller, tribal areas clotting together to form larger, scarier entities, and forming one in Norway was, in considerable measure, necessary for self-defense. Buckles will be swashed.

    Yeah, he is in his twenties, but I could not get out of my head the image of Mets pitcher Noah Syndegaard as Harald. - From Muscle Milk

    Rags, all rescued and dried off, wants to slip in to a tribal gathering called a

    , where he hopes to accuse Solvi of trying to kill him, and also challenge his stepfather for paying Solvi to do it. He wants to win back the hand (and presumably the rest) of his promised-since-childhood fiancée, Hilda. (Her father considers him a loser at this point and is not cool with her being with him.) She likes him too. In a land where might makes right, legal proceedings are not necessarily an effective solution when trying to right a wrong. In fact, as one might expect, many disputes are settled with sharp weapons instead of sharp minds. And the legal system in question is at least as purchasable as is the one in place today.

    There is a lot in here about the codes of honor extant at the time. Swearing allegiance to someone was a big, life-and-death deal. Upside is that swearing allegiance to the right person might get you the backing you need to defend your land, or maybe take someone else’s. Of course, swearing allegiance to the wrong sort could present terminal challenges.

    Following Rags’s adventures offers one a fascinating look at Viking culture. Through his experiences, we get to see what was considered fair play, get a sense of familial relations, see what passed for law, and government, and even have a bit of a look at how people made a living. One of the most fascinating elements, and not in a good way, was the treatment of women.

    A 14th century rendering of Harry the Blonde – from Wikimedia

    But was he really blonde? These guys were known to bleach their hair, for real. Hildie, quick, come look. Did I get it all? Did I miss any spots? How long to I have to leave this stuff on?

    Speaking of which, Rags has a sister, Svanhild, 16. And she is amazing! (Svanderful?) She is stuck with the same evil stepfather as Rags. While Olaf may not manifest carnal intent toward her, he would like nothing more than to marry her off strategically, to secure a much-needed alliance with a stronger family. Not much interested in the bear of a guy Olaf has in mind for her, and feeling pressured, she strikes out on her own, not generally a big 9th century move for young women.

    It gets complicated. But what shines through is her eagerness to experience as much of life as she can. No sitting home spinning, cooking, and popping out mini-Vikings for this young lady. Much more Boadicea than brood-mare, more Valkyrie than Vanity Fair, Svan is faced with some very difficult choices, and manages to manage. She may be a relatively tough cookie physically, but that is not what gets her through.

    She is challenged by an ignorant sort on the supposedly easier life women of the time experience.

    One of the really wonderful things about this novel is that it does not stuff a 21st century perspective into a 9th Century world. While Svan’s adventure may resonate with contemporary understandings of gender, there was precedent for such behavior in that era. In the case of Rags, he does some pretty amazing things, but he also engages in behavior that is appalling by today’s standards.

    The original Viking cruise – from Gettysburg.edu

    The novel portrays challenges males and females faced in that primitive time. Young men were expected to be adept at military combat. They had to engage in battle to maintain control of their land, presuming they had any, and woe to him who was less than a physical specimen. If you want to keep your land, you had better be able to defend it against all attackers. (I could certainly see this happening eventually as a possible model for apartment distribution in NYC.) Something like 33 Percent of Viking men did not make it to adulthood. 35 percent of woman did not see 30. (see death by childbirth) Even among those who managed to make it past adolescence, average life expectancy was on the dark side of 40. Women were regarded as chattel more than anything. And while they may have had influence, particularly were one to be #1 wife in a powerful household, they had little power. Some of the descriptions of how they were treated will definitely make your blood boil. Hartsuyker shows diverse ways by which women coped.

    This is an historical novel for which Linnea Hartsuyker has done a considerable amount of research. But it started with one particular bit of intel.

    Adventuring headgear of the age, available, no doubt, at Amazon. Monographing is extra.

    Many of the characters actually existed, although some had to be invented to keep the story moving, and to fill in historical gaps. You might not want to google too much information on Viking history if you want to avoid spoiling sundry outcomes in this novel, and the two that are planned to succeed it. There was another draw to the era for Hartsuyker.

    History was not the only consideration here. Hartsuyker also looks at myth-making. The era was one in which legend played a large role (another resonance with today). Where does history leave off and a good story (fake news?) begin. One character, for example, is telling his own history, and is challenged when it is clear that he might just be embellishing a teensy bit.

    And I am sure his was the largest audience ever, too. Rags has some notable successes in the field, and is modest about those, but is encouraged by people with greater political savvy to at least own up to, if not fluff up the tales to enhance his own standing among his peers.

    A Viking house – from AncientPages.com

    The current uptick in interest in things Viking touches contemporary concerns. In a recent interview on

    , Seth Meyers asked CNN political reporter Jake Tapper what question people asked him most when then encountered him on his vacation. Tapper’s response, “Are we going to be ok? Are we going to survive this administration?” certainly speaks to existential concerns. And if everything goes kerblooey, we may again become more reliant on physical skills and the need to fend off rampaging hordes of armed attackers.

    There are elements of fantasy here as well. After being unceremoniously tossed from his ship, Rags has an encounter with the goddess of the deep, Ran, and sees an image that will forge his future path. Another character is said to be a seer. Another has an issue with being dead. These are scattered throughout, and are few in number, but do give the story a tincture of fantasy. Of course with tales of all sorts being told at

    , it is no large stretch to accept that, in this pre-scientific world, an acceptance of the supernatural could be…um…natural.

    With

    , Linnea Hartsuyker has launched a successful raid on the worlds of both historical and fantasy literature with her Norse saga. There is no doubt she will be returning home with considerable booty. This novel is not just a rollicking adventure. It is not just a wonderfully rendered fictionalized account of some very real historical events, offering a portrait of the lives of that era. It is also a very engaging tale of a brother and sister, both trying to make their way in a hostile world, both coping with questions of freedom versus a constricted security, both facing challenges in having to balance justice with vengeance. While they may not be written at the highest possible level of character portraiture, they are drawn well enough to make them relatable. You will care for both, even if you are likely to take exception to some of the decisions they make.

    Time to sharpen your pointy helmets, lighten your hair, put a fine edge on the nearest battle-axe and strap on some chain-mail. Vikings rule in

    . It is not a short book, but you might fight your way through it without coming up for air.

    Eager readers rushing to the bookstore

    Review Posted – September 9, 2017

    Published – August 1, 2017

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    Links to the author’s

    and

    pages

    There are two more books planned in this trilogy. The second,

    (2018), is written. I am not sure if the third,

    (2019), has been completed yet.

    seemed appropriate, for Svan anyway. I looked for a performance in Oslo, but came up short.

    Articles by the author worth checking out

    -----

    - on the Fantasy Literature site -

    -----

    - on LitHub

    Interviews

    -----(Print)

    - mostly on writing process, but there are some wonderful bits of intel here

    -----(Video) -

    -----(Audio) -

  • Truman32

    Vikings are a baffling lot—they personify the best of what we like to think we can be—brave, adventurous, noble, cultivating incredibly bushy beards, and possessing the flair to wear horns as an accessory mixed with enough radioactive alt-right notions that would make your everyday white supremacist say, “

    Slow down there for a second Gunnhild, I think that viewpoint is a mite intolerant!”

    But if you can put aside the rape, murder, slavery, misogyny, etc. perpetrated by the good

    Vikings are a baffling lot—they personify the best of what we like to think we can be—brave, adventurous, noble, cultivating incredibly bushy beards, and possessing the flair to wear horns as an accessory mixed with enough radioactive alt-right notions that would make your everyday white supremacist say, “

    Slow down there for a second Gunnhild, I think that viewpoint is a mite intolerant!”

    But if you can put aside the rape, murder, slavery, misogyny, etc. perpetrated by the good guys in Linnea Hartsuyker’s adventure

    , you will find that Viking stories can also be pretty exciting.

    Ragnvald and his little sis, Svanhild, live under the care of their cruel stepfather who more than likely killed Dad and took his land. Ragnvald has embarked on a fine carrier of raiding along the coastline until his captain, Solvi (hired by that stepdad), stabs him in the face and throws him into the drink to drown. Svanhild meanwhile, has been instructed to marry an enormous and gross old man who is friends with her stepdad. These two kids are in t-r-o-u-b-l-e!

    Like a couple dancing the paso doble, Ragnvald and Svanhild begin

    together, but then separate to find their own rhythms and stories. They will eventually sashay their way back to each other, but only after much hardship, fighting, royal intrigue, and other Viking wackiness has ensued.

    Hartsuyker’s book is an entertaining epic. I picked it up after seeing it on a list of books to read while waiting for the next

    novel to come out (it’ll be here any day now, I’m sure!) and while this bold Viking tale is more along the lines of historical fiction with no fantasy elements, it does match up as a lite alternative for fans of that series.

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