This is an absolute ripping yarn, as ripping a yarn as you are likely to find, and unlike some TV series, it’s steeped in solid historical detail. Do want a fun sense of how Vikings lived in 1000 A.D.? Read Lars’ Erling novels.
This one is the fourth, but the first two are combined into one book, The Year of the Warrior. Next comes West Oversea, which you can learn about by searching this blog. And here, Hailstone Mountain (The Erling Skjalgsson Saga) brings us the courageous, noble Erling Skjalgsson stepping into the battle of his life.
First, he appears to be wasting away without reason. Father Ailill discerns he has been poisoned by magic and must find the magician to break the spell. Erling isn’t willing to risk everyone’s life on a quest to save his own, so his family and friends fear he will die, but when Lemming’s daughter disappears, they suspect she has been kidnapped by the minions of old magical people who kill select people in order to live forever. Whereas he would not fight for his life, Erling will fight against this abomination. That is what kicks everything off, and Lars doesn’t spend a chapter here and there describing the life cycle of trees. Each adventure builds to the next.
Lars’ heroes are epic sized, but they are also realistically drawn. They deal with honor, slavery, and bigotry just as their historic counterparts did. One of the moving threads in this book has German priests refusing to work with a pagan magician who has joined their team. They could not condone the work of the devil in this man (a fair idea), and yet their motives were also of the devil. Sometimes, Ailill is no better. I wonder if he had a greater concept of God’s magnificent grace and less of his own worthlessness, would he have spoken an apt word to these men, like he does to the pagan in the beginning, and temper their distain? But bigotry runs deep, especially when its partially dug by religious convictions. It’s slow to correct course.
In a dark hour when Ailill is forced passed his self-centered lethargy, he says, “It was an awful thing, to be the Beloved’s mouthpiece… But He does His work in the dark and deadly places, and His tools are easily broken, for He delights in turning them to unwonted uses.” Then he must speak the Word. He must tell his small congregation how he sees the world and what little hope he has for it, and he wrestles with God (not unlike Jacob did) over whether there’s any good in it.
And is there any good in the world? Though some men live to fight another day, many do not. Where is the good for them? Can’t tyranny be tolerated for the sake of a kind of peace? Can the slave live a meaningful life?
Let me know what you think, after you read Hailstone Mountain.