Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Seal Stew Anyone?: SONS OF THUNDER by Giles Kristian

Sons of Thunder by Giles Kristian
I probably say this too often and now here I go again. Journey adventures. This is my favourite type of historical fiction. I loathe being stuck in the one place in a book, ie a castle, an army camp, a ship.
My imagination feeds on colourful journey adventures where the main characters travel from one exotic place to another, meeting one exotic person or groups of people after the other.
Somehow I think it hearkens back to the first time I saw Star Wars - the ultimate in journey adventures.
The Creature Cantina, and the adventures immediately before and after, are my favourite scenes in all of the Star Wars movies (Princess Leia/Jabba the Hut slave scenes from Return of the Jedi come a close second) and they imprinted upon me so much that even today, as an adult and no longer a kid, my reading and movie tastes are still influenced by that imprint.
This could be one of the reasons that the Vikings are my favourite journeyers of history and Viking adventures are my favourite types of historical fiction novel, after all, if you take out Luke Skywalker and the sci fi setting and replace with a Viking protagonist and an early European setting, these kinds of stories have a lot in common with the Star Wars adventures. But enough of that tangent, now on to Sons of Thunder.

Sons of Thunder was a fantastic journey adventure for me and is much improved on the first book in this series, Blood Eye. That is not surprising though. For numerous reasons. But mostly they are because Blood Eye was a coming of age for the character, Raven (I do not enjoy coming of age stories usually), and a debut for the author, Giles Kristian.
When I first read Blood Eye I wasn't won over, but I always thought that one day I would get to book two. It was a debut after all and I do like to give the debut book of a series some leeway. It is hard enough to find quality Viking era historical fiction and Kristian clearly knew how to write quality, he just had some kinks to iron out in regards to plots and character depth. Which I think he did successfully in Sons of Thunder.

Despite wanting to eventually get to book two I kept putting it off....until recently. I made myself reread book one. Rereading Raven: Blood Eye was the right move. I enjoyed it so much more and bumped it from 3 stars to 4.. It gave me the incentive to get to Raven: Sons of Thunder and I am so pleased I listened to my gut and gave the series another chance.

With a lyrical and uniquely Saga driven writing style, Kristian can mesmerise the reader. I was mesmerised and that is no easy task. I read at night after a busy day and I get tired and bored easily, so I need to be mesmerised to hang in there. 
I do not need high adventure on every page to mesmerise me and keep me awake. What I need is skillful writing backed up by vivid and transportive prose.
For example:
We tracked the coast slowly but steadily and at one point sailed right into a dirty cloud of biting gnats. They got into our mouths and down our tunic necks and even bit some of us on our eyeballs, which we all agreed was a very low thing to do. We roared at Olaf and Knut to tack us out of that Hel, but even when they tried, the movement of the wind across the sail was pitiful, and so we had to endure it, cowering under furs and skins like frightened women.
Afterward, we laughed about it, for when Svein huddled beneath a white reindeer skin, it looked as if a mountain of snow had dropped onto the deck. We laughed and we teased one another and we scratched, and when we saw three broad knorrs ploughing their own sea roads west and south, we knew we had come to the mouth of the Sicauna. Sure enough, we rounded a stubby peninsula on which dozens of houses sat coughing black smoke into the grey sky. 
Once around that, Olaf said, we would see the river. -  from chapter ten

I am sure that if he keeps this up he will lure readers and fans for a lifetime. For it is books like these and writing like this that are a gleaming beacon for the genre of historical fiction.  This Raven Saga is here to stay.  I have no doubt.

The story itself is a journey adventure of a kind that, for the reasons already expressed, held immense appeal to me. It was not restricted to only Britain and its immediate surrounds, but branched out to other exotic and fascinating places such as Paris, France. An unexpected place to see our Viking crew turn up, but delightful all the same and I loved it. It was a lot of fun. In truth, the whole book was a lot of fun. For the same reasons that I find Robert Low's Oathsworn books a lot of fun. Humour, jollity, honesty, vitality and pagan naiveté all rolled into one.
Shockingly brutal and violent at times, it was all, to me, done in a natural way. It was not at all gratuitous and I never felt that the author was just trying to please the kind of audience who prefers gratuitousness over substance and quality. If I had detected it were that kind of book I wouldn't have been able to run away from it fast enough. It was tough and gutsy without falling into the cliche of being over pumped, cheesy, gore porn.

As for the title of this review? All I can say is that there is a seal and horseradish stew in this story that I will never forget. I am nearly gagging just thinking about it. Which gives credence to Giles Kristian's ability to create believable atmosphere.

As far as a rating goes, I have to give this book the full five stars out of five. For my tastes I could not fault it. A terrific Viking read that has left me hungering for the next book in the trilogy, Odin's Wolves.

- MM


  1. Vikings typically aren't my thing, though I confess it's not because I don't like them~~I just never read much Viking HF. However, this book sounds like a good place to start: there's a lot in the review to persuade me, especially as work mentally drains me, too, so on many days it has to be really appealing to keep me awake. Somehow I don't think this will be a problem. ;-)

    1. Hi Lisl,
      It is the second one in the series. Not sure I can advise skipping book one, but only because I am not sure if you need to read it to get into this better. I think you may have to. In order to understand the relationships better.
      Have you read The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell? I find that book/series is a good one for people who aren't really into Viking novels as it is as much about the Saxons as it is about the Vikings.

  2. Last Kingdom series is the one I cannot wait for. But I love history and historical fiction, so I might be biased.

    But this series I actually started with Odin's wolves (small bookstore, long story). But read the first 2 in sequence after. It did feel out of place with a lot of Ravens happenings in regards Cynethryth and the fellowship but, if you really need you can read them out of order. In fact Sons of Thunder would be easier to get into. As he sets the story quite well, almost Cornwellian.

    1. That's interesting. Good to know that people can read them out of order. Since I read them in order it is always hard to advise people of whether they should start with book 1 or come into the series wherever they please.