by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Book One of The Viking Sagas
When the Viking mercenary Halfdan leaves his family to join Harold Hardrada in the great city of Constantinople, his daughter Solveig feels abandoned. She decides to follow her father, and sets off down the river in his old coble. Traveling alone, a teenage girl is vulnerable. As Solveig navigates the river routes, she meets up with other travelers, and trades her skill at carving bones for passage on their boats. But even with the aid of her new friends, such a long journey is perilous, and Solveig has no proof that her father will even be waiting at the end of her adventure.
It's obvious that Crossley-Holland did his research on Viking customs and practices during this time period, and the text is rich with historical detail. I can now easily imagine what a Viking home looked like, or how the ships sailed, or the difficulties faced by those who struggled to reconcile traditional religious beliefs with the new Christianity spreading at this time. It's all very good and interesting. But if you've ever wondered what life was like for a young girl in the 11th century Viking world...well, this probably isn't the most representative story. Solveig, a fourteen year old girl, travels thousands of miles by herself and experiences little harassment? Sorry, but I find this rather hard to swallow. I'm almost certain such a traveler would end up robbed, raped or kidnapped into slavery. It just seems so unrealistic in a novel that is otherwise determined to be as grittily real as possible.
I could almost overlook this discrepancy for the sake of a good story if Solveig was at least engaging, but she isn't. She's got very little personality. Her only passion is the intense longing for her father that drives her through this incredible journey. Other characters are equally underdeveloped, making it difficult to care about their fates, and the apathy generated slows the tale until it's a wearisome slog rather than an epic saga.
Would the lack of character depth have bothered me when I was a child? Probably not. I think that a child interested in Vikings might really enjoy this story. But Bracelet of Bones lacks the narrative strength to delight adult readers. The world-building is strong, but peopled with such forgettable men and women it seems like something of a waste.
2 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Crystal Bones (Faelin Chronicles #1) by C. Aubrey Hall
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: The Big Book of Gross Stuff by Bart King
2009: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson