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Sword Daughter

Sword Daughter is yet another Viking era tale told by Brian Wood of Northlanders fame, this time told by a young girl living in the Scandinavian region who survives a massacre on her village when she is a toddler.

The story picks up ten years later in 991 AD, and we discover that Elsbeth has improbably taken care of her father, who was catatonic with grief, and was the only other survivor besides her. First off- what? Although there is mention of Elsbeth trading with nearby seaside villagers, how did a toddler survive the harsh winters and stay clothed and fed during that decade before her father awakens from his fugue state? It defies logic. Getting past this was impossible, and colored my feelings towards the rest of the story.

Once Dag awakens he vows revenge against the Forty Swords, the group who attacked his village and killed most of his family. This group is made up of a bunch of young radicals who have no fixed ideology, they slaughter simply for the pleasure of it. And off Dag and Elsbeth go in the name of vengeance. And that’s the rest of the story – this father and daughter journeying together to find the Forty Swords and challenge them. Dag tries to connect with his mostly non-verbal daughter due to guilt, with a bit of a Lone Wolf and Cub vibe, but I wasn’t feeling it. Stuff happens and then there is a flash forward with a mystery of what happened in the years between Dag awakening and Elsbeth becoming a young woman that leaves some story line threads for the future.

The art by Mack Chater is sketchy with an earth toned color palette, and it is very reminiscent of his earlier Briggs Land collaboration with Wood.  The only additional color is red, when there is blood spilled, plus the evocative red drenched panels during the attack on the village. There are some interesting choices in his panel placement, with a good flow to the narrative; however, some of the art lacks definition with the landscapes simply drawn.

Considering how much I typically love Wood’s work, this story is a real disappointment. While his Viking saga Northlanders is a real treat and his other Viking story Black Road said something fresh about faith and conversion, this story was lacking. What I really want Wood to do is to revisit Briggs Land with Chater and to also continue Rebels, his American Revolution series. So while this particular story didn’t work for me, I still look forward to future work by Wood and Chater.

-Nancy

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Black Road: The Holy North

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.

-Nancy

Wood, Brain & Garry Brown. Black Road: The Holy North. 2018.

Northlanders: Books Six & Seven

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!

-Nancy

Read my reviews on: Book One, Books Two + Three, Books Four + Five

Northlanders: Books Four & Five

Northlanders continues to wow, after my initial rough start with Book One. The fourth book in the seven book series was my absolute favorite!

The Plague Widow: Book Four

The story takes place in the frozen Volga region in AD 1020. A plague has come to the seven hundred person settlement in October, and as winter has started, burials in the cold ground are impossible so pyres of dozens of bodies are lit to dispose of the diseased bodies. Frantic with worry the inhabitants listen to their elderly leader plus the local priest Boris. Boris counsels strongly that the settlement go under quarantine and those who show any sickness be banished so those remaining may live. But what they don’t take into account is how claustrophobia sets in, and they find they locked the greater danger inside their walls with them.

Hilda, a young beautiful widow with an eight year old daughter, is caught in the crosshairs as her former status as a wealthy woman is stripped when her husband dies of the plague. Destitute, with a long winter ahead, she struggles to survive and is targeted by Gunborg, who is the second in command and has it out for her after she votes against him in council. Two other men want her as a wife, but each man has different motivations and their jealousy of one another results in bloodshed. A final battle between Boris and Gunborg comes to a head, and Hilda and her daughter are given a chance to escape.

The art by Leandro Fernandez is a perfect match to the story. He captures the isolation of a Viking settlement shown mostly in dull colors with overlays of blue wash, which effectively shows the icy coldness of Russian winters. Some of the changing artists in this Northlanders series have not been to my liking, but the pairing of this excellent story with Fernandez’s precise artwork made this a winner.

Metal and Other Stories: Book Five

After how much I loved The Plague Widow, this book turned out to be disappointing in comparison. Metal is the long middle story, with two much shorter stories book-ending it.

The Sea Road

Illustrated by Fiona Staples who is now known for the Saga series, this short story takes place on the open sea in AD 760. Captain Dag is running cargo along the coast when he suddenly decides to turn the tiller and sends him and his crew westward towards the unknown. Putting his men at risk on a moments whim, he wishes for greater glory but instead encounters storms, mutiny and crew members experiencing hallucinations and going berserker. When they finally make landfall on Greenland, the few surviving members are met with treachery by the captain and their epic journey is for naught. This was an interesting take to show that many unknown sailors died ignobly with their discoveries unrecorded.

Metal

I recently read Boxers & Saints, about how Christianity changed China forever, and how many fought the new religion as it significantly changed their culture and resulted in many old traditions being outlawed.  So it was quite a coincidence that a week later I read another graphic novel story about Christianity changing Norway in AD 700.

Erik is a young blacksmith who is tied to traditional Norse Gods and is against his settlement allowing a new Christian church to be built. He watches as priests and nuns move in, along with a teenaged albino girl whom the nuns mistreat. In the night Erik burns down the church but first rescues the girl Ingrid and they run off together. The story then becomes a Bonnie and Clyde caper, with a strange magical realism aspect, that doesn’t match the rest of the series of realistic fiction. There was no subtlety, it was just Eric slaughtering any Christians he encountered, so the reader could not take his side at all in his wanting the Nordic Viking traditions to live on.

The art by Riccardo Burchielli was awful. Not only was I unable to get into the story, but the people he drew were grotesque looking. Erik is drawn as a hulking troll, not even resembling a human (the picture in this post makes him look normal, the rest of the series does not). Ingrid is drawn slightly better, but there are some sequences that she was drawn so horribly, and I didn’t understand why. In the concluding pages, Erik is drawn so differently that I question if the same artist drew him.

The Girl In The Ice

The best of the three stories is illustrated by Becky Cloonan and is a character study of an Icelandic fisherman set in AD 1240. Jon is an elderly widower who discovers a young girl frozen in the lake ice. He carves her out and brings her back home to investigate who she is and how she died. With no obvious trauma on her body to explain her death, he doesn’t understand why no alarm in the nearby settlement would have been sounded when a girl went missing.  Soon some patrolling soldiers discover Jon trying to hide the body and take him into custody believing he is the killer. He is taken into town to be tried for the murder, and we learn how the girl came to be in the ice. It ends on quite the melancholy note.

I have the last two volumes on hold and look forward to wrapping this series up. My only real complaint is that the art in the various volumes is so inconsistent. While I liked the first and last illustrators in this book and the cover art throughout by Massimo Carnevale was top notch, when a story has sub par art the entire story suffers.

-Nancy

Book One

Book Two & Three

Book Six & Seven

Northlanders: Book Two and Three

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.

Image result for northlanders the cross and the hammer

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)

-Nancy

Image result for northlanders sven the immortal
Wood, Brain & various artists. Northlanders: Book Two + Three. 2009 +2010.

Northlanders: Sven The Returned

Who knew Vikings were so emo?

As a huge fan of Brian Wood’s Brigg’s Land and Rebels series, I wanted to check out his earlier work and picked up this Viking saga set in a A.D. 980 on the Orkney Islands of Scotland. Norseman Sven, who has been banished from his ancestral home, returns home after his father’s death to claim his inheritance.  Continue reading “Northlanders: Sven The Returned”

Vinland Saga: Book 1

I used to read manga in high school. My favorite titles were Fruits Basket, Chibi Vampire, and Mars. But with that interest came a curse… I could never, ever, no matter how hard I tried or how many times I restarted the series, finish it. So, I would have called myself fans of these, but never actually finished them. Good job me XD

(Lucky I’d never been spoiled for the ending of any, especially Furuba, given how popular it was at the time and how many of my friends were into it, too.)

I came across this in the computer at work and ordered it for the heck of it. I was quite surprised when it came in and I saw it was a manga. But I figured I’d try it anyway – maybe the curse had since been broken!

Thorfinn is a young Viking, a deadly warrior for someone of his age. He’s got plenty of reason to be. His village was destroyed when he was a child, and his family slaughtered. He belongs now to Askelaad, the very man who murdered his father. Thorfinn has no choice but to go with Askeladd into battle, but is plotting, ever plotting, to challenge him to a duel and avenge his father’s death. Ever since he was a child, listening to Leif Erikson’s stories, he’s wanted to be a Viking explorer, but not like this…

… I’m sad to say I’m still under the curse. I couldn’t finish it and gave up about halfway through. The beginning chapters were action-packed and moved incredibly fast, and I was sucked in! But then it started taking us back to Thorfinn’s past and it just stayed there. It seemed to want to reveal his entire backstory in one go, and I’m not really about that fast reveal. The art is pretty good, dynamic and more atmospheric than I remember manga being. There is a looot of blood in the battle scenes though, so watch out for that if you’re queasy. The history seemed to be well-researched. I can definitely see how it would be engaging for another reader, but sadly, I’m just not that reader!

– Kathleen

Yukimura, Makoto. Vinland Saga: Book 1. English translation: 2013.

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