This is one of the few books that attempts to present the Christian history of medieval Norway in a fair light. At times raw and blunt, Walker’s writing captures some of the “ragged faith” of Flannery O’Connor. His protagonists are never pretty. There is a comedic irony to it all: God really does choose the worst people to be his messengers. If I could summarize Walker’s writing style in two words, it would be “Don’t flinch.” There is nothing graphic here ala the torture porn of George Martin, but a few things are implied. Such is life, though. He doesn’t sanitize the Christian faith.
The pros of the book:
Walker does a good job at characterization and is ability to weave subplots (not plots, mind you). His crafting of a story and its difficulties, and the heroes’ ability to navigate these difficulties, reminds one of Terry Goodkind (without Goodkind’s penchant for sadomasichism). Secondly, Walker rightly notes that the gods of heathendom were quite real, contrary the bourgeoisie Evangelical, but were demons. When the Kingdom advances, it comes into sharp conflict with demons.
The book ends with King Olav Trygvesson. There are few reliable accounts of Olav and while Lars’ is fictional, it is still more reliabl3e than most. (The jury is out on how accurate Snorri Sturlosson’s account really is). Walker, perhaps not entirely realizing it, shows us the superiority of monarchy over polyarchy (e.g., democratic republicanism). In a harsh land, only a strong king–one king, one law, one logos–can bring justice and order. (The chaos of modern America–analogous to the prophet’s commentary at the end of the book of Judges in the Bible: there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes).
While Walker is a master weaver of subplots, his handling of plots is not the same. The book is episodic. I’m not quite sure what the storyline was, except in vaguest terms. I put the book down for a few months (my daughter was born) and picked it back up, but forgot what page I was on. I just guessed somewhere in the middle . It didn’t matter. I was able to jump right in and not miss much. Incidentally, this story would make for an excellent television series.
As I think back two years later (since first reading), I am impressed how much it “imprinted” itself upon my thinking and imagination. The plot may not have been the most straightfoward, but the writing “grips” one.