It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!
Black Road continues Brian Wood’s take on emo Vikings. Set in Norway in AD 1000, Magnus The Black is a warrior who discovers a secret among the new Christian priests who are laying waste to the Norskk culture and landscape. This isn’t an extension of Northlanders, instead this series is set up to be a mystery thriller and not as historically accurate.
Magnus is a bear of a man, who respects his pagan upbringing, yet realizes that Christianity is taking over the region and wants to help his people through the transition. However, this makes his unpopular with both sides, as neither fully trust him. A former soldier, he is grieving the loss of his beloved wife and wants reassurances from the Catholic priests that they will be reunited in Heaven together. He takes on a job of escorting a Cardinal from the Vatican up the “Black Road” to a new compound up North. The job goes sideways, and he joins up with Julia, the Cardinal’s adopted daughter and the local blacksmith, Kitta, to finish the journey northward. There they find a rogue priest, Bishop Oakenfort, who wishes to shift the power of the Vatican from Rome to Norway and for him to be in charge. Chaos ensues.
I’d also like to know Wood’s true view on Christianity and about his faith journey, as many of his works portray the Church in a very negative light. While historically accurate in many respects, his bleak and dark views only show the negative side of this era’s conversions, and is not a balanced viewpoint. But I obviously find it fascinating, as I keep on reading his graphic novels.
The artwork was solid, by Garry Brown who did the artwork for Wood’s The Massive series. His style is rather blocky, which doesn’t always translate for faces, yet his backgrounds are detailed and the Scandinavian landscapes are well drawn. Dave McCraig does the coloring, as he did for the entire Northlanders series, and effectively guides you through the changing chronology with color changes to signal Magnus’s flashbacks. I read the compilation of the series, which included V1-The Holy North & V2-A Pagan Death. At the end of the book it included a mock up of the first issue, after which Wood changed direction and re-wrote parts of it, which was interesting to see the evolution of the story.
This Norse saga will appeal to all Northlanders fans, although like I said earlier, it is not a continuation of that series. Magnus The Black is a layered individual with conflicting desires, and this story has the potential to say something fresh about faith and conversion, so while I doubt the series will continue, I’d read more if it does.
I’m back with a T5W post, after a very long break from it! Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. This week the topic is creating a recommendations guide for a certain type of person. I am a practical lass, and a bit of a pessimist truth be told, so I am choosing books a realist would like. For the last year and a half, ever since I discovered Briggs Land, I have been having a reading affair with Brian Wood who takes real and edgy to the extreme.
Brian Wood’s Northlanders saga has drawn to a close. Seven books have given us intimate portraits of Viking individuals and families through out the years, in three geographic areas- Iceland, Europe and the Anglo-Saxon regions. I am sad that this series has come to an end, and will miss these emo, petulant and violent warriors!
Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories: Book Six
The Siege of Paris– The longest of the three stories is set Paris in AD 885 and is based on an actual historical battle that was documented by Monk Abbo Cernuus, a character in this story. Told from the perspective of Danish soldier of fortune Mads, he and the other Viking soldiers prepare for a long siege. Despite only a small army defending Paris, they manage to put off the Viking fleet. Mads is able to cut off their supplies and a battle ensues, but a political settlement is reached and the soldiers end up fighting in vain. Illustrated by Simon Gane, the rough and cartoonish looking drawings were not to my liking.
The Hunt– A hunter, whose wife and children have left him to live in the city due to unusually cold winters in the wilderness, tracks a deer through wintry Sweden in AD 1000. Defiantly bitter about it, he obsessively hunts the deer wanting to prove to himself that he is still a provider. The artwork by Matthew Woodson is decent with some nice landscapes.
Thor’s Daughter– Set on an island in the Outer Hebrides, islands off the coast of Scotland, in AD 990 we meet Birna Thorsdottir, the daughter of the man who owns the island. A tough teen, she is still caught unaware when her father is ambushed and killed by some of his guards. Kicked out of her home she seeks other guards that still remain loyal to her family. She ultimately gets revenge, but there is a huge gap in the story to explain how she persevered and claimed her birthright. The artwork by Marion Churchland was lacking and the short story was not strong enough to deserve the title of Book Six.
The Icelandic Trilogy: Book Seven
This last book details a family’s rise and fall through several generations in Iceland beginning in AD 871 and ending in AD 1260. Three artists are utilized- Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey and Danijel Zezelj- as we move through the different eras.
We begin with Norwegian immigrant Val Hauker, whom with his wife and son Ulf, settle on the empty shores of Iceland. Within a year other immigrants begin to move there too, but Val wishes to establish dominance as he was there first. After a violent run-in with the Belgarsson clan, Val wishes to teach Ulf a lesson on how to be strong against future attacks, but he goes too far and turns Ulf into a sociopath. Time passes and Ulf grows up and he consolidates power so his family can reap the riches of the region. He frees an Irish slave and takes her as his wife, and their bloodthirsty ways grow. However, I do not understand how Ulf becomes so powerful- why would other settlers align with his small family in the beginning? While this establishes the beginning of the Hauksson dynasty, I did not buy it.
Skipping ahead to AD 999 we meet the fifth generation of the Hauksson’s, brother and sister Brida and Mar. There is a Game of Thrones vibe here, including a sexually charged relationship between the siblings. When Mar leaves to loot among the southern coast, the Belgarsson clan aligns with the growing group of Christians in the area, putting the Haukssons at risk. Brida needs backup so she finds the illegitimate son of her father, hoping her half brother Ott can help strengthen her position. When a converted Mar returns, the twins fight over how Christianity is changing traditional Icelandic ways, but Mar argues that they must join with them if they want to stay dominant. At the height of their family’s power, this is a turning point for them, and the siblings need to adjust accordingly.
The final jump is to tenth generation heir Godar and his impetuous son Oskar in AD 1260. Godar is a steady man who is documenting his family’s linage and has the riches of his family in stable holdings, now that the family no longer has to go to war to retain their power. However, Oskar wishes for glory and makes a power play so he and his allies can fight soldiers from Norway who are encroaching on Iceland. But things don’t go as planned, and after several failed military maneuvers, Oskar loses the confidence of those he leads. The Hauksson family is now in decline, 400 years after settlement, but the family name lives on…
I am a huge fan of much of Brian Wood’s work, especially Briggs Land and Rebels, and this sometimes uneven series further cemented him as one of my favorite authors. Some stories were obviously stronger than others, but the problem I had was the inconsistent artwork. Illustrators like Leandro Fernandez, Becky Cloonan and Ryan Kelly were excellent, others were horrible. Dave McCraig, the colorist throughout the series, did the best with what he was given and kept to an earth tone palette which brought some consistency to the varying art styles. I loved every single work of cover art by Massimo Carnevale and wish he had illustrated some if not all of the stories. Wood shines with his historical fiction series, and you can tell he does his research, although he often will put in modern sensibilities into his work. His interpretation of Viking history is one you don’t want to miss!
Earth has suffered several catastrophic environmental disasters in the space of a year, resulting in mass deaths and a new political order. Two marine conservation boats, part of the group Ninth Wave, survive the chaos but become separated from one another.
Text in yellow boxes detail the many ruinous events that led to environmental and societal collapse. In fact some events truly changed the landscape with coastlines and islands being especially hard hit. In the face of this, Captain Callum Israel of the trawler Kapital searches for sister ship The Massive. Along with Israel there is mercenary Mag, mysterious Mary and other idealistic but weary crew members. This small crew of hardy environmentalists question if they can keep to their no-violence pledge in the midst of attacks from pirates, assassins and the dangers of changed ecosystems.
To be honest, not a lot happened in this first volume. Author Brian Wood, whom I’ve been reading a lot of, is busy world building so the Kapital just seems to aimlessly travel around the world looking for any clues of The Massive’s location. Just when they seem to have found a signal from the ship, nope, they’re wrong. The repetitiveness got old and I’m questioning Mary’s origins. She seems too good to be true, and her background knowledge and ability to survive catastrophes seems suspicious.
The artwork has an extremely muted color palette, symbolizing the postapocalyptic new world, and has certain color schemes that represent the time shifts in the narrative. The stylized ways the characters were drawn took some getting used to, but I soon came to appreciate the design format and wondered why I found it problematic at first. There was welcome diversity in the crew and in the ports they visited, with a hipster vibe throughout.
While not bad, this story was underwhelming. Although I liked how Wood made this world seem plausible (except for Mary) and presented real ethical dilemmas, it didn’t grab my attention like much of his other work has. I don’t believe I will continue with this series.
I am having a love affair with Brian Wood this year! Having discovered Briggs Land last year, this year I have devoured it’s sequel Lone Wolves, volumes one-three of his Viking saga Northlanders, the first Rebels about the Revolutionary War, and now this companion piece about the War of 1812.
In the first volume A Well Regulated Militia, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war. This second historical fiction graphic novel follows suit.
These Free and Independent States
In this continuation, we revisit Vermont to find that Seth’s son John is a boat-making savant. Spanning the years from 1786 to 1816, John comes to age as the new nation faces several threats and a new Navy is commissioned. John’s parents discover he has a fascination and an aptitude for building ships. Nowadays we might call these traits autism, but despite having no name for it, Seth and Mercy recognize his gifts and apprentice him to a master ship builder out of Boston. His careful work is integral when building the USS Constitution, which was later nicknamed Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. His work is so all consuming he is oblivious to Alice, a young woman he has known since childhood, who has taken a fancy to him. When the ship goes to sea he signs up to be a soldier on it, just so he can remain on the ship he has claimed as his own. His obsession proves to be his downfall, but luckily he has some allies who remain dedicated to him. The story ends with an improbable conclusion.
A short story about George Washington when he was a Lieutenant Colonel and his actions in the Ohio River Valley in 1753. This portrayal shows him an an impulsive young soldier, who was worried about how he would be depicted, and how he was not always a man of his word. This representation certainly does not show him in a good light, as his foolhardy actions don’t match his later reputation as one of our founding fathers and the nation’s first president.
An orphaned brother and sister cling to their New York homestead from 1777-1783. These two plucky siblings discover a secret stash of gold that the British lost and offer it to the leaders at Valley Forge.The ending with it’s time jump defied logic. I wanted to like this story but couldn’t.
The Green Mountain Boys
Captain Ethan Allen gets the spotlight in this last short story. In 1775 he petitions the Continental Congress for recognition and funds for the soldiers he leads. But the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga proved the Green Mountain Boys were worth every penny that the government reluctantly gave them.
The artwork throughout the entire novel is strong, although you can tell different artists are utilized in the last two stories. The drawing is sketchy, with a light green and yellow color palette. You can tell much research went into the panels to depict colonial life with impressive details of the ships in the first story. This is yet another example of the excellent historical work that I have come to expect from Wood and his team of artists. I will absolutely pick up whatever he puts out next in any of the series I mentioned in this post!
Three weeks ago I read Northlanders: Sven the Returned (Book One) and I said “This is a series (that continues on with different characters and dates) I will not continue.” Yet…here we are. When I heard that Book Three included a short story on Sven whose story was all of Book One, I ordered it. Then I thought, well, I should get Book Two just to keep it in order. Damn it all- I was hooked.
The Cross + The Hammer: Book Two
While Book One had taken place in AD 980 on the Orkney Islands of Scotland, this story takes place in occupied Ireland in the year AD 1014. The story centers around brute father Magnus and his pre-teen daughter Brigid who are on the run. Former monk Magnus is on a crusade to kill as many of the King’s men as he can while defending his homeland, despite having his beloved daughter by his side. Lord Ragnar, using unlikely detective skills (for that era) tracks this vigilante. But Ragnar is no noble Norse leader; he and his fellow soldiers leave as much destruction as Magnus does, each feeling their cause is worthy and justified. Then the last chapter pulls the rug out from under you, and everything you thought about this father and daughter is suddenly upended. I had to re-read the concluding pages several times to truly understand what had just happened. Not all the pieces fit (you have to have a suspension of disbelief) but I applaud the author Wood for trying something new.
The artist is Ryan Kelly, different from the artist in Book One, and he ably recreates the Irish countryside and it’s inhabitants. The men are rugged and battle weary, but Brigid is always drawn as a beautiful waif, making her a studied contrast with her father.
Blood in the Snow: Book Three
This volume is broken into several vignettes (similar to how Wood wrote Rebels), where as the two previous books dealt with one extended story at a time. While I at first only planned to read the last chapter about Sven, I was sucked into the other stories, that were all drawn by different artists.
Lindisfarne– Northern England AD 793: Teen Edwin hates his bitter father and older brother and when Vikings land near his home he leads them straight to his village. Conniving Edwin sides with the Northlanders and forever turns his back on his Saxon kin.
The Viking Act of Single Combat– Northern Europe AD 790-1100: Six generations of two neighboring lords battle regularly. Two ugly Vikings battle to the death. Whatevs.
The Shield Maidens– Danish Mercia AD 868: Three widowed Danes escape and become shield maidens who were women warriors who fought alongside men in Scandinavian folklore and mythology. They escape to an abandoned Roman fort and defend themselves against the invading Saxons. Fate is intertwined into the story, so how they succeed seems less due to their own prowess than just luck. The very dark coloring and lack of individualization of the three women made this female-centric story less powerful than it could have been.
Sven The Immortal– Oslo Norway AD 1009: Sven and Enna are back! As is original artist Gianfelice and his issue with eyes! Sven has been in exile for several decades when young men who want to prove their manhood by killing the fabled Sven Of Orkney, decide to find him. Sven sends his two children into hiding, and he and Enna prepare for the attack. These young bucks underestimate the greying Sven but he shows them that he can still battle with the best of them. While I won’t spoil how he and Enna persevere, I will say that I was extremely happy with the ending. Sven- who knew that your character would end up being so appealing to me?
There are seven books total in this Northlanders series, and while I truly don’t plan on reading the remaining four, never say never! ( Edit- I did, and loved the series! Books Four & Five, Six & Seven)