Reviews

THE HALF-DROWNED KING (August 1, 2017)

Publishers Weekly

“In her first novel, Hartsuyker brings to life the savage world of the Viking warriors of ninth-century Norway. Ragnvald Eysteinsson is on his way home from a raiding expedition across the North Atlantic when he is betrayed by his captain, Solvi Hunthiofsson, and flung overboard. Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald eventually returns home to his beloved sister, Svanhild, who is miserably betrothed to an older man, Thorkell. The source of both their unhappiness is their stepfather, Olaf Ottarsson, who plotted to have Ragnvald killed and Svanhild married off. Exposing his stepfather, Ragnvald goes off to fight alongside Harald Halfdansson, the future king of Norway. At the same time, strong-willed Svanhild finds escape in the form of Solvi, the self-confessed instrument of her brother’s betrayal, who takes her as his latest bride. But Solvi is a sworn enemy of Harald, so what will happen when Ragnvald ultimately meets his brother-in-law in combat? The author, who can trace her lineage back to Harald Halfdansson, recreates the half-civilized, half-primitive landscape of his time, where a dragon boat sailing up a fjord struck dread in all who saw it. Befitting its subject matter, the book is replete with exciting battles, duels, and sieges, but the author makes Svanhild’s domestic tribulations equally dramatic. In the end, this novel can stand proudly with Edison Marshall’s The Viking and Frans G. Bengtsson’s The Long Ships as an immersive fictional recreation of a bloody moment in Scandinavian history.”

Kirkus

“Steeped in legend and myth, Hartsuyker’s debut is a swashbuckling epic of family, love, and betrayal that reimagines the Norse sagas.  At 20, hotheaded Ragnvald is old enough to be a warrior “and counted a man”—but not old enough to see betrayal coming. After he’s nearly killed in a plot orchestrated by his stepfather, Ragnvald swears allegiance first to King Hakon, then to King Harald , hoping to win enough power to take back the land that’s rightfully his. Meanwhile, his sister, Svanhild, abandons the protections of family and friends to escape an arranged marriage—only to find herself at the mercy of her brother’s betrayer, Solvi. Hartsuyker bases Ragnvald’s tale on the epic of King Harald Fairhair, one of her possible ancestors. The historic figure of Ragnvald rose to prominence as one of Harald’s fiercest warriors during the unification of Norway in the ninth century. In the gaps of recorded history, Hartsuyker weaves a tale of myth, magic, and superstition, where “the chilly fingers of Ran’s handmaidens” can pull a sailor to his death or an undead draugr can terrorize a village. The contours of Ragnvald and Svanhild’s reality are equally dangerous, and Hartsuyker doesn’t shy away from depicting the slaughter, rape, and deception that marked the raids and battles of the Viking age. While Hartsuyker’s prose is straightforward, the plot is as deliciously complex as Game of Thrones. And, in an era so dominated by the tales of men, it’s nice to see a complicated, cunning heroine like Svanhild swoop in and steal the show. Hold on to your helms and grab your shields—Hartsuyker is just getting started.”

Booklist (starred review)

“In mid-ninth-century Norway, power was dispersed among many petty kingdoms, while sea-kings gained wealth and status through plunder. Chronicling the time that saw Harald Fairhair’s rise as eventual king of a united Norway, Hartsuyker’s terrific historical epic, first in a projected trilogy, beautifully evokes the period and the mindset of its warring peoples. After his stepfather’s attempt on his life fails, Ragnvald Eysteinsson pursues revenge and a plan to regain his hereditary lands while finding his place amid the Norse kings’ shifting alliances and blood-feuds. Meanwhile, his teenage sister, Svanhild, too strong-minded to be a peace-weaver bride, moves through challenging emotional territory after evading an unwanted marriage. Posing thoughtful questions about the nature of honor and heroism, and devoting significant attention to women’s lives, the novel takes a fresh approach to the Viking adventure genre. Hartsuyker also shows how the glorious deeds in skaldic songs can differ from their subjects’ lived experiences. The multifaceted characters are believable products of their era yet relatable to modern readers; the rugged beauty of Norway’s farmlands and coastal landscapes likewise comes alive. The language is clear and eloquent, and the action scenes will have the blood humming in your veins. This is how tales from the old sagas should be told.”

— Sarah Johnson

Library Journal (starred review) excerpt

“Making her fiction debut, Hartsuyker, who claims descent from Norway’s first king, writes an absolutely top-notch Viking saga, and readers will eagerly await the next two volumes in this trilogy.”

Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK

Luit van der Tuuk, Conservator of the Dorestad museum and expert historian on Vikings in the Netherlands

“What an excellent writing style. The descriptions and above all the dialogues are totally natural. It is a pleasant mix of adventure and atmospheric scenes that from time to time evokes the strange sensation of Icelandic saga’s. All within a framework that is well-founded, from a historical point of view. For me as promoter of Dorestad, but also for the Dutch reader in general, the travelling of Solvi and Svanhild to Dorestad is a highlight in the novel. I felt like coming home after a long journey.”