Reviews

THE SEA-QUEEN (August 14, 2018)

Advance Praise for THE SEA QUEEN from Kirkus:

Now fighting opposite her brother, Svanhild must decide how to navigate an ever more treacherous Norway in Hartsuyker’s follow-up to The Half-Drowned King(2017). Things aren’t going exactly as planned for Ragnvald, who has fought in King Harald’s quest to unite Norway for six bloody years. As a warrior, Ragnvald is used to raids and war, but he is often startled by Harald’s penchant for revenge. Even after all the warring is said and done, Vikings have strict codes of honor, and Harald pushes Ragnvald into ever more gruesome confrontations that trouble his conscience. In a surprising move, Ragnvald’s sister, Svanhild, has married his enemy, Solvi, a skilled sailor and warrior rousing an army to resist Harald’s conquests and burdensome taxes. This puts the two siblings at odds, even after Svanhild leaves Solvi and returns to Ragnvald’s camp a grieving mother. As the factions continue to war, Svanhild is caught in the middle. Will she stand by her brother’s side or lie to protect the man she still loves? New characters, like Ragnvald’s stepbrother, Sigurd, give us insight into the labyrinthine political machinations, back-stabbings, and betrayals at work in the Viking age, taking us straight into the camp of one of Harald’s betrayers. Like many second books in a trilogy, this one can get bogged down trying to put all of the players in the right places at the right time, and the novel relies heavily on exposition. But Hartsuyker is a skilled storyteller, and the moral battles her characters wrestle with on and off the battlefield add compelling psychological depth to an old and epic tale. She also restores women’s work and political maneuverings to Ragnvald’s story, and Svanhild emerges as a complicated, talented, and shrewd warrior in her own right. “Should I give you a ship and a crew so you can fight my sea battles for me?” King Harald asks Svanhild after she proves herself a more worthy sailor than many of his men. Svanhild, of course, doesn’t miss a beat. “Yes…I think you should.” It’s a good thing Harald listens. A seafaring epic with bloodcurdling raids and political intrigue to spare.

Advance Praise for THE SEA QUEEN from Library Journal:

Following a successful trading season, Svanhild, sister to Ragnvald, the hero of Hartsuyker’s The Half-Drowned King, and husband Solvi return to their home in Iceland. Svanhild’s young son hasn’t taken well to travel on the open seas, and she hopes that by staying on land for a time, he might grow stronger and regain his health. Sadly, being land-bound is not where Solvi’s heart lies, and he demands that his wife and son accompany him on his next voyage. When Svanhild’s weakened son dies at sea, she abandons Solvi and sets off for Norway and her brother’s household. Meanwhile, Ragnvald, weary of war, returns to his own land to find his holdings have been claimed by Atli, who insists that King Harald promised them to him in Ragnvald’s absence. Deprived of home and hearth and knowing that his sister is no longer tied to his enemy, Ragnvald joins Harald to resume war against the raider. VERDICT Hartsuyker is a wonderfully descriptive writer equally adept at penning truly horrifying battle scenes as depicting life in ninth-century Norway. Fans of History Channel’s Vikings should find this novel (and its prequel) equally compelling.

—Jane Henriksen Baird, formerly at Anchorage P.L., A

THE HALF-DROWNED KING (August 1, 2017)

Wall Street Journal excerpt

Ms. Hartsuyker captures the sense of saga times and saga heroes: violent but litigious, treacherous but honorable, impetuous but crafty. Ragnvald, Harald and Hakon all play off one another, as do the striking Svanhild, her stepmother Vigdis and—only just coming into the picture—Gyda, whose proud refusal of Harald created Norway.

— Tom Shippey, WSJ

BookPage excerpt

Everything you want from a medieval saga set during this crucial period of Norwegian history is here, from massive battles to honor-fueled duels to rituals and supernatural visions. What sets The Half-Drowned King apart is the way Hartsuyker renders it all. Her tales of great Viking deeds are given all of the epic gravity they require, but the character drama is what makes this novel addictive. In Ragnvald we see the proud warrior beset by vulnerability, self-doubt and moral ambiguity, and in Svanhild we see a powerful spirit longing to break free, discovering her own cunning and intellectual ferocity in the process. As they trade off chapters and the story barrels toward clash after clash, the timelessness of the tale becomes clear. Hartsuyker has captured an era with precise, powerful prose imagery, but she’s also vividly envisioned two enduring characters.

— Matthew Jackson, BookPage

Fiction Unbound excerpt

“The Half-Drowned King opens a window into the richly imagined lives of those who endure the constant stress and trauma of a hard life in the ancient European north. Hartsuyker’s characters rely on visions and the examples of the great heroes and fearless women of the past to carry them through when circumstances abruptly and violently shift the ground under their feet. Every page carries a visceral presence of the mythic and the epic. Even better, this is the first book in a planned trilogy: The Sea Queen will be released in the summer of 2018, and The Golden Wolf is due in the summer of 2019. I look forward to revisiting Hartsuyker’s characters in years to come as they roam the wild northern land and sea. ”

— CS Peterson, FictionUnbound.com

Indie Next

“A fast-paced and harrowing saga of a sibling pair, both trying to do what is right for the other while navigating the physical and political terrain around them. Ragnvald and his sister, Svanhild, are our protagonists, and the book contains alternating chapters about each of their adventures. One fights a war on the battlefield while the other fights a war in the bedroom, and, fighting internal conflicts, each grows into adulthood quickly in this harsh environment. Rich with battles, love stories, and the breathtaking landscapes of Norway, The Half-Drowned King is a must read for fans of literary fiction, adventure tales, and well-paced storytelling.”

— Giovanni Boivin, The Bookloft, Great Barrington MA

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.”