The books were written after Raven but are set before them (Sigurd is already a jarl by the time the Raven books come around.) They chart the rise of Sigurd from a younger son fighting for recognition, through the betrayal of his family, to him becoming a respected jarl.
Essentially the books follow the same pattern as Raven: vikings with a heart of gold (Mainly. Some are nasty b*st*rds.) plunder and loot their way through one country after another. Most survive. Most of their enemies don’t.
It’s gory. (Again). It’s imaginative. Sigurd is a likeable character full of ‘low cunning’. He is surrounded by a varied band of characters, each one different to the next. Once more, an honourable mention goes to Svein the Red. Despite his brutality, he has a simple/ honest approach to life which makes him a nice foil to Sigurd’s ‘Loki-cunning’. It also sets Svein up for some good observational humour.
The world and its people’s lives are authentic and evocative. The details that give that realism aren’t rammed down the readers’ throats but are woven into the story well. There are no information dumps that read like a Wikipedia page
There is a lot of action and the series gives a nice back story to the characters present in Raven. (Those that survive, obviously…)
The writing style is much smoother than Raven. Stands to reason, I guess, but there is a noticeable jump in quality: the prose, the descriptions of nature in the vein of Bernard Cornwell, the action scenes. They are all much more developed and contain hints of the writing that Kristian produces in his superb Arthurian tales (Lancelot and Camelot.) Part of me wishes I had read Sigurd before Raven as it allows for a chronological unfolding of events. That said, given the evolution of the writing style, it may have been a little jarring to have done so.
Gotta love the covers!
I don’t have many criticisms (I like Kristian’s books), but there are a few things that came up.
Valgerd. I have no problem with shield-maidens. Women fought in history. It’s a fact, if you don’t like it, go read a book. My issue with Valgerd is what happened with Sigurd, especially given her previous relationship. It felt crowbarred in, almost as if someone said ‘this book needs some romantic tension’. I think the story would have been better had Sigurd admired Valgerd from afar and never got the chance to lay with her. (Or ‘swive’ her. There’s a lot of ‘swiving’ in the books.)
MINI-SPOILER ALERT OVER!
Secondly, the action. It’s relentless. A change of pace would have been good. Essentially Sigurd and his crew go somewhere, get into trouble and either trick or fight their way out of it. They may get treasure. They may get women. They may get nothing. Rinse and repeat for three books. It’s a harsh assessment but that was the way it felt after having read Raven and then Sigurd.
On that note, the sting is taken out of many of the fight scenes because I know who survived having read Raven. There’s not much the author can do about that, I know. That, in itself, is enough of a reason to read Sigurd first.
All in all, though. I liked the series. If you want a book about vikings who don’t wear horned helmets, if you don’t mind gore and violence, if you want a book that is well-researched but doesn’t use facts as a substitute for a plot, if you like dark humour and fast-paced books, these are for you.
Just watch out for the blood.