"An epic tale of adventure, plunder, murder and revenge!" February 1, 2005
It's been a long time since I've let myself be swept into another time and place by an historical saga. And this novel, set in the tenth century in the time of the Vikings, is what I call a "delicious" read. Once I got into the book and the Norwegian names were no longer a challenge, the story moved fast, sweeping me up in this epic tale of adventure, plunder, murder and revenge. The characters were fully developed, the time and place authentic, and I learned a lot about the politics and history of the time.
The story begins in conflict as the Christian King of Norway is pitted against the old time religion of the people, who worship Odin and come together in an annual festival where they pray to Odin and ritually sacrifice animals. There is a murder which results in a prestigious family being banned from the land. Erik the Red is their teenage son and the reader watches him and his two good friends, go to sea, marry and develop trade. They also "go a Viking" which means they travel to various European countries, loot the valuables and takes slaves. Reading this is an interesting experience because by this time in the book I identified with them and liked them. Though their eyes, however, the plunder was just part of their culture and even though I personally was appalled at what a Viking raid really was, I couldn't help but understand where they were coming from.
There are also several other villains who plot our hero's demise. They are sketched so well that I could almost find myself "booing" them every time they came on the scene. This is not a book of subtleties. It's big and bold and every character is larger than life. There are good guys and bad guys and even the good guys are cruel sometimes. However, the author makes sure to let the reader know that the good guys' cruelty is justified.
The book moved quickly and swept me along in the adventure. If there was any weakness it was that I needed a little time to get the characters' names straight and, the author's use of words like "okay" made me wonder at first if the dialogue was going to be too modern. I needn't have worried though, because by the time I had finished the first fifty pages, I was so swept up in the story that I no longer noticed little details like that. By then, the characters had sprung to life and I felt I was right inside their heads, living their lives with them.
I loved this book. It was a perfect companion on a cold winter's night when I could hear the wind whistling outside my window and let myself be transported back a thousand years. When I finished all 481 pages, I wanted more. I understand the author is working on a sequel. I can't wait to read it.
Valgard Murray-Publisher-World Tree Publications
The Eye of Odin is an historical novel set in early Saga times. In this narrative, the sometimes-dry bare bones accounts of the Norse Sagas are fleshed out in such a way that transforms the characters of the Sagas from just vague actors in a sketchy drama to the real flesh and boned heroes and villains of the golden age of the North.
The author meticulously writes of the history and exploits of the Norwegian clans and families during the great age of western expansion, which saw the discovery and settlements of Iceland, the rise of the Christian influence in the North, and the Heathen attempts to combat the inevitable clash of cultures.
We can follow the exploits of Thorvald and his son Erik, later to be known in the Sagas as Erik the Red, from their Norwegian steads to the fells of Iceland, with stories rich in colorful and informative details which lends the reader to feel that he or she is right there as the story unfolds.
Although a novel, this book is based solidly on the Sagas and known historical evidence of that time. However, with all this aside, it is an exciting and informative read that I would suggest for everyone.
"Larson's Historical Novel A Winner", April 27, 2004
||Reviewer: Mr. James Herro from greenfield, wi United States |
The imagery created by the author throughout the book makes the reader feel and experience the minds and religions of 10th. century Vikings. The adventure, romance and rivalries are timeless human themes which are handled beautifully in "The Eye of Odin." The epic proportion of the story is wide screen material.
Kudos to Mr. Larson
Midwest Book Review April 12th, 2004
"Weaves a memorably written and ultimately satisfying tale."
The Eye of Odin by James Richard Larson is an impressively powerful story based upon historical events and figures drawn from the age of Viking exploration into Europe. In this saga we follow the journey of a Viking chieftain, his family and associates, and of their perilous journey that will ultimately change the world. Unsympathetically portraying the brutality of Viking raids, but also looking toward still greater evils that menace humanity as a whole (and the few who dared to challenge them), The Eye of Odin weaves a memorably written and ultimately satisfying tale laced with conflict, a struggle for survival, and the violence which flared between the Pagan and the Christian. Highly recommended reading and the first of a projected three volume series.
To go a-viking . . ., January 11, 2004
"A stirring tale, well thought out and thrillingly told."
Reviewer: stephen a. haines from Ottawa, Ontario Canada
At a time when current literature seems surfeited with either fantasy or self-indulgent whingers, it's a delight to encounter a good fictional account of historical figures. Larson, reaching deep into the past, retrieves the Norse hero, Erik the Red. In school we learned of Erik's Atlantic journeys, but were quickly switched to Columbus as the conveyor of European culture to the Western Hemisphere. When later evidence emerged of Norse settlements in Newfoundland, the old myths gained new status. Now, Larson has brought these distant hints to full life with an engaging tale. Fraught with plots, feuds, exiles and viking raids, this is a fine book to take up on long winter nights.
The story opens with Erik as a teen-ager in 10th Century Norway. The Christians are making inroads on traditional faith. The king, although a Christian scorning pagan beliefs and rituals, is constrained from forcing conversion. Always threatened by Denmark's competitive forces, Hakon must lead his warriors in confronting invasion. Thus, he keeps peace with his nobles, lest they rebel. In the midst of these political and religious confusions, Erik's father, condemned for a killing, is exiled to Iceland, fairer than its name. Maturing on the island, he becomes caught up in feuds typical of the era. One of these conflicts, stretching back to Norway itself, brings Erik to Greenland to found the Norse colony there. Greenland thus becomes the stepping stone for Norse landings in Newfoundland.
Larson panders to no "modernisation" demands in his stirring tale. Viking raiders sought slaves, treasure and the power these brought on return home. Christian monks were slain out of hand and coastal towns ravaged mercilessly. He doesn't gloss over these incidents - they were the norm of the age. Far more significant is Larson's depiction of Christian incursions against the ancestral faiths. Most conversion was by fiat - convert an earl or a monarch and the population must follow. The alternatives were death or exile. Larson points up the tolerance of the "pagan" faith of Odin [or Wotan] in contrast to the absolutism of Christianity. There is a subliminal call for liberality of views here. The call should strike a chord with American readers whose forebears founded colonies to escape religious persecution.
Larson has obviously delved into the available material to underpin his narrative. We are given details on shipbuilding, navigation, trade practices and making war. He's careful not to let the information overwhelm the reader. He provides enough information to set the environment, then smoothly continues the story. And the theme is less the old image of the ruthless Vikings than it is the clash of faiths. Odin speaks through the runes cast by the holy man Ragnar. Ragnar, to his dismay, reads that Christianity will persevere in the Norse lands, leaving him helpless to prevent it. Larson weaves this motif through the text lightly. Neither Christian nor pagan are judged by this author, but only the characters themselves.
There's little to fault in this book. Maps would have helped, but the atlas was at hand. In an historical work these days, a reading list is an added bonus. Even science fiction writers now point to additional information. These are sins of omission, hardly glaring and not something detracting from a stirring tale, well thought out and thrillingly told.
Stephen A Haines is a retired Professor of History (University of Wisconsin)
The Eye of Odin - Review by Dirk Schmitt, September 28, 2004
Author: James Richard Larson
Published: iUniverse 2003
Rating: 8 out of 10
Whether you are interested in the Viking Era, sea tales, or just a good read, then The Eye of Odin by Jim Larson is definitely for you. Set in the 10th Century against the backdrop of the coversion times when Christianity and the ancestral Troth were coming to loggerheads more and more, it is the tale of Thorvald Asvaldsson whom is father to the famous Erik the Red, father to the even more famous Leif Eriksson. The Christian King of Norway, determined to eliminate the Ancestral Troth from Norway, causes Thorvald, a 'Heathen' to be banished after a killing which is deemed to be a murder. With little choice but to leave Norway, Thorvald decides to travel to Iceland, still close enough to Norway to allow trade and contact with old friends, but far enough away to ensure safety. But as is always the way, such safety is never assured, with Thorvald's arrival in Iceland being the impetus for a greedy, murderous Christian ex-slave to take umbrage at the sale of land to Thorvald. The scene is set for conflict between Godars, and others, with love, hate, jealousy, murder, justice and the ever present escalation of conflict between Christianity and the Ancestral Troth proving for some truly great storytelling.
Anyone whom is familar with the Sagas will be very happy with the form and style of writing exhibited by Jim. Detailed enough to provide a clear picture in our minds, including explanations of ideas and terms where necessary for those whom mightn't be as familiar with the concepts in the work as those of use for whom the Northern Folkway is part of our lives. The writing is clear with emphasis on the relationships of the characters and the actions which they undertake, providing for a fast pace of movement in the narrative. This is a large book, at 480 pages, on par with many of the great writers such as Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler et al, and clearly will take some time to read, but it's well worth the effort. I personally found the brief pauses to explain things a bit distracting, but it must be understood that this is coming from someone whom is familar with the terms and concepts, and where-as it tended to break the flow of the story for me, for someone less familiar, I am sure that they would be appreciative of the extra information.
In all, a fine work and one which would sit well amongst any of the more well known adventure writers. And Jim is working on the sequel to this book which we hope to see soon.
(Review may be found at the AET website - www.aetaustralia.org)
3 1/2 stars, actually, August 16, 2004
"Reminiscent of James Michener's sweeping sagas."
Larson's novelization of the Viking Age is both compelling and informative. His primary focus is on the life of Erik the Red and his family, intersperced with detailed overviews of the political and religious climate of Norway and Iceland in the tenth Century. The reader is treated to detailed accounts of exciting ocean battles between longships, bloody raids, the evil exploits of the psychotic Bagnold, and the political intrigues that raged in the court of Christian King Hakon and his Pagan subjects.
In many ways, Larson's narrative is reminiscent of James Michener's sweeping sagas. A chapter will focus on a character's personal journey, and then telescope out to look at how the entire region at the time was being influenced by foreign trade and forced migration (in the form of Thorvald's banishment and Erik's voyaging).
Larson does not waste time with sympathetic hand wringing over such topics as war and slavery. It was a brutal age, and the author does his best to portray it accurately, while attempting to make the characters accessible to modern readers.
This is a first novel, and it does contain some faults. For example, Chapter One would have made an ideal Prologue, since it sets up the time and environment nicely; but does not introduce the protagonists very well. While Larson is good at "telling" the reader what is happening, there is a noticeable lack of "showing" what is going on. The characters could have spent more time actually doing the things Larson is describing (i.e. Erik doing Winter activities would have fleshed out his persona and made him more interesting).
Another point in Larson's favor is his attempt to recreate the spirituality of the time in the person of Ragnar, priest of Odin and friend of Thorvald and Erik. Researching the Sagas and studying the works of scholars like Edred Thorsson, Larson has done a good job of trying to recapture what it must have been like to worship the Gods of the North and follow their teachings.
With the promise of another novel, WOLFGAR, in the offing, Larson has set himself a mighty challenge as a new voice for Viking Age and Nordic focused novels.
"Ultimate Vikingsnovel - Historic Epos - Cult Book"
June 24, 2004
"1000 years will pass by, until men recall our old gods...
then the worship of Odin will become more powerfull than ever before!"
(Ragnar Ragnarson, Nordic seer and priest, at the end of 10th. Century)
The Norwegian king Hakon I. has been educated like a Christian at the royal Anglo-Saxon court. In the year 950 AD, at the harvest celebrations at the City of Hlader, he doesn't only reject the participation in the victimís meal in the old god's honour, he even makes the sign of a cross towards the holy drink, that has been dedicated to Odin....
.... As reaction to this sacrilege against the gods of Asgard, Thorvald Asvaldson and many other noble and free men take a blood oath that they will never accept Christianity.
The main theme of the novel is the foreseen victory of Christianity that comes together with an establishment of royal authority, that both have no tolerance of the religion of their ancestors. In distant Iceland, which is a place for refugees, emigrants and banished Norsemen, without the ruling of a king, but with freedom of religion, the space for the worshipers of Odin, Thor, Njord and all the others becomes small and smaller...
Beside raids, trading and discovery travels, which frequently flowed one into the other, and where a hunter easily could become the hunted, the reader receives extensive information about the religion and the juridical system of the Vikings. To that belong the descriptions of victim rituals, the meaning of the Holy Runes and different kinds of divorcing in the old Nordic styles. Especially the tasks of the powerful "Allthing", with the membership of all free men, executes beside legislation and jurisdiction, also the government of island. (It is really busy with "all things".) Beyond that, the novel shows family- and love stories and offers also revenge, betrayal, greed, sadism and other depths of the soul. Opportunists, that became Christians for utilitarian reasons and who are praying sometimes to the old gods are not missed in the plot, as the black humor, which is particular in these category of novels. Some anachronisms in direct speech of the actors ("assassinate", "pestilence", "tea", "vendetta") are small blemishes, but of no importance for the evaluation of the whole novel.
"The Eye of Odin" is "the ultimate Vikings novel", but above also a terrific epos, with an action an historic substance of the years 922 - 986 AD, that turn classical novels like "The Long Ships" by Frans Gunner Bengtsson or "Die Mšnner vom Meer" by Konrad Hansen pale. The action neither looses it's excitement, as for example in "The Greenlanders" by Jane Smiley, nor it drifts into fantasy spheres like "Vinland Saga" by Josef Nyary, nor does it become a parody ŗ la "Speckseite's Ostseefahrt" by Knut H. Thomsen. The first novel by James Richard Larson, who has fulfilled Ragnar's prophecy of Odin's return, as he himself is the new "Valfather's High Priest", has the potential to become a cult book as we wait for it's continuation ("Wolfgar") with high excitement. Therefore only the maximum valuation of 5 Amazon stars is shown.
"A Genuine Can't Put Down", June 14, 2005
If you're looking for high literature, you won't find it here, as Jim Larson is never going to be acclaimed as the greatest exponent of the English language. However, he is a master of the craft of yarn spinning. I found this novel of Viking times a genuine "couldn't put down". The characters come alive, and there is none of the confusion that one can find in some epic novels. What Nigel Tranter did for Scottish history in novel form, Jim Larson looks like being fully capable of for the Vikings. Superb first novel, great reading, and I can't wait until the next one, called "Wolfgar" is published. I'll be at the head of the queue to buy it.
"Excellent Retelling of the Vinland Sagas", January 21, 2004
Reviewer: rachel_e_w from Joshua, TX United States
The Eye of Odin, written in the straightforward style of the Sagas of the Icelanders, is an excellent re-telling of the events leading to the discovery by Leif Erikson of Vinland, or the North American Continent. Spanning three generations, starting with events leading to the exile of Erik's father from Norway, James Larson fills in the tale with information about the culture, government, and technology of the Norse people without bogging the reader down with too much information which can lead to sounding like a textbook. I've read some of the Sagas of the Icelanders previous to this and feel this book did very well in filling in a lot of information that modern readers need, such as lifestlye, culture, and such that were taken for granted when the stories were first written down two hundred years after these events happened.
The characters are well portrayed, and the struggle of Christian and Heathen forces before the official conversion of Iceland well done, showing people who were both true believers in the new religion, and those who simply used the new religion to gain power and wealth, as well as the thoughts of those who refused to abandon the ways of their forefathers for a new way.
Events culminate with the discovery of Greenland and migration to the new land by Eric the Red and his people following his outlawry from Iceland, during which time disaster strikes and many are lost, but some survive and are marooned on yet another strange, new land.
The only caveat I have about the book is that I feel the many other deities worshiped and honored by the Heathen Icelanders could have been more fully explored or explained for readers who may be non-heathens. As it is, Odin is given much attention, but only a few other gods are mentioned, and even then not explained very far. However, the main point of the story is the events, trials, and triumphs of Eric the Red and his family and friends, so this isn't too bad an oversight.
There is a coming sequel to this book covering the travels and experiences in the new world of Wolfgar, friend and advisor to Leif, and one who is blessed by Odin and reads the runes and receives visions and dreams from Odin. I am greatly looking forward to reading that as soon as it is released.
Reviewer: isenwulf from Carpentersville, IL United States
The Eye of Odin is a highly gripping and entertaining retelling/prequel to the Vinland Saga. First it starts out with Eric the Red's father Thorvald getting outlawed from Norway after murdering a fellow countryman that made some dishonorable comments about his wife. He makes a trip to Iceland and the story unfolds into a drama filled with adultery, murder, rape, and a host of other evils.... As well as more positive things such as honor, brotherhood, loyalty, and duty to ones gods. There is a lot of friction between the Heathen and Christian people.... And a lot of blood was spilled and lives ruined over this struggle. One of the most notable characters (as the bad guys always are) is Bagnold, a man with a spirit of a "Jotun" (the term "thurs" or "wyrm" would have been better since not all Jotuns in Norse Mythology were evil) who is a notoriously greedy and violent man who takes pleasure in beating, raping, killing and counting his silver. He seems to have a lot in common with the mythical dragon (ON:orm) Fafnir of the Volsung Saga.
There is also Ragnar, the "seer" (I think the old Norse word "vitki" or the anglicized "wizard" would have been more appropriate) who possesses great powers of divination using his Runes (I do however think that his role would have been even more interesting if the operative aspects of rune magic were done...or even made use of some of the spells from the Icelandic galdroboks).... he was perhaps my favorite character in the whole story. And then there are the jovial Rolf and Snaebjorn.... Two roguish Vikings that go out and plunder ships and churches. The story was beautifully written and it really captures your attention and keeps you in suspense.
Nordic history with a twist, December 27, 2003
Reviewer: Michael Murphy from Johnson Creek , Wi.
The old Norse sagas are a treasure trove of stories about Scandinavian history, and this book remains faithful to the subject. Although most history books declare that Erik the Red was a common criminal, as was his father, he is portrayed in The Eye of Odin as the protagonist surrounded by treachery and evil. If what has been written about him is any clue, Erik was a murdering scoundrel and was thrown out of his country with good riddance.
Tacitus and Julius Caesar wrote of the pagan religion and of witnessing divination by "lots" or "runen", carved wood slats cut from trees and cast to reveal the will of the Germanic gods. The Eye of Odin describes this practice remarkably well, and raises the veil as to how these rituals were observed. In addition, the details of the blood sacrifices are as described in the sagas, whereby the Nordic gods were implored for their favor and worshipped for their grandeur.
During the exodus to Greenland, named thus by Erik the Red so that men would be more likely to settle there, the sagas tell the story of a major disaster at sea, and The Eye of Odin relates this incident in a gripping, vivid manner, where one feels the impending doom in a storm on the violent North Atlantic. For a good adventure story with an accurate historical background, portraying the dark side so indicative of the Nordic psyche, this book is highly recommended.
A Journey with Vikings, December 22, 2003
Reviewer: Dan Krueger from Franklin, WI USA
Informative and entertaining, The Eye of Odin blends history with a story, among other things, about Erik the Red and his discoveries.
Early on, the book describes a brief history of the era, in this case the tenth century. At a festival in Norway, A bloody pagan sacrifice sets the stage for the events to follow. The king is in attendance, and as a Christian will have no part of the ritual slaughter. After a murder, a banished group of Vikings sail to Iceland where Lord Alvis, a local chief, welcomes them. Battles at sea and Viking raids occur throughout the story, with even the unfortunate French falling victim to the Viking's wrath.
Filled with characters such as Bagnold, the embodiment of evil, Rolf, a pirate in love with the beautiful wife of a chief, Ivorsson the Viking captain and his sadistic counterpart Hendricksson, the shaman Ragnar, a diviner of the future, and Hebrew slave traders, the Eye of Odin is a well researched, fast paced and very enjoyable novel.
The Eye of Odin, November 17, 2003
Reviewer: Lester Jakubiak from Waukesha, WI United States
Very enjoyable book. Iím looking forward to the next one. (Wolfgar)