Sorry about not posting last night. I was… indisposed. I’m not going to go into more detail, because it was pretty disgusting. Don’t even think about it. I’m trying not to.
And that was a great pity, because it tacked a nasty ending onto a glorious day. The temperature was something like 80°, a record for the date. As I took my evening walk (wearing a tee-shirt) I just wanted to spread my arms and sing out—
“DON’T BE TAKEN IN!”
Don’t forget it’s March, fellow Upper Midwesterners! Haven’t you paid attention to what I’ve been saying about the deceitfulness and tricksieness of Madame March? When she gives you a beautiful day like this, it’s only for the purpose of softening you up for the big double cross. Beware! Beware!
On the other hand, she did come in like a lion. Maybe she’s tired.
No, no, no, no! Listen to me—even I am falling for it.
Cooler today. Rain coming tonight.
When frequent commenter Dave Alpern sent me a pile of books to read a while back, he included the novel The Deepest Sea by Charles Barnitz. I read it with much interest and considerable enjoyment.
If my own The Year of the Warrior ever had a sister, it would be The Deepest Sea.
I hasten to add that I don’t mean to suggest he copied my book (the first part of TYOTW came out in 1995; the Barnitz book in ’96). I’m sure he’s never read any of my books (who has?).
But clearly he was trying to do the same thing I was attempting—to tell a rollicking Viking story in a non-clunky form. I tried to do it by putting on a stage Irishman’s brogue and trying to be creative with idiom. Barnitz tries to do it by creating a character who’s been alive since Viking times (I won’t tell you how) and so speaks our language. This results in a Dark Age narrator using terms like “off ramp” and “middle managers,” which irked me at first and never entirely pleased me, but I got used to it.
The book started a little slowly, but (as many people have told me about my own books) it grew on me as I read, and I spent Sunday afternoon and evening not putting it down. One problem I saw is one I can identify with—delayed introduction of the fantasy element. Jim Baen was always complaining about that with me. “This is a fantasy, isn’t it?” he’d say. “We don’t publish historical fiction.”
There’s a natural impulse to try to draw your reader in with naturalistic narrative before taking the risk of introducing the fabulous. But the fact is, if you delay the magic too long, its introduction jars the reader. In a book like this one, where you’re planning to bring a dragon onstage later on, it’s good to set it up with something a little stronger than mystic dreams and soothsaying.
I can quibble with some of the Viking stuff. Barnitz has a character named Snorri and one named Skallagrim, in a book set in the 790s AD. But we know from the sagas how each of those names came to be (they started as nicknames), and that was in Iceland some time after the date of this book. Also he has a minor male character he calls Hjordis, which is a woman’s name. He also thinks people sat around belowdecks in Viking ships. They didn’t. (One reenactor has described Viking ships as “floating water tanks.”)
But these are nitpicks. The book grabbed me before long, and had me by the short hairs by the time it was done.
The hero-narrator is Bran Snorrison, the son of a Danish settler in Clontarf, Ireland. He falls in love with the sister of his chieftain, and goes on a Viking raid to England, in order to either win enough money to sue for her hand, or kill the Irish nobleman who is betrothed to her (and who is along on the raid), or both. He gets separated from the army, and finds himself traveling cross-country in the company of a strange young woman who attaches herself to him for no reason he can understand. She has a secret, which is revealed in a very effective climax.
The anticlimax pleased me less well, but that’s mostly because of my taste in music.
I was worried in the beginning by Barnitz’s flip attitude toward his Vikings, and I was afraid I’d be treated to another “dumb warriors” story, but the characters and the stakes got more serious as time went on.
I was also worried that there’d be a lot of Christian-bashing, but I was surprised to see Barnitz depict the monks of Lindisfarne (which makes a big part of the story) with considerable respect. This is not a Christian novel by any means, but it could have been much worse.
All in all I liked it a lot, and wish there were more.
But there aren’t. Barnitz hasn’t published a book since this one.
Not a good omen for our sub-genre.