Blood Will Follow: A small step backwards

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In my review of Snorri Kristjansson’s first Viking book, Swords of Good Men, I pointed to how the action was generally a positive but issues of pace, POV, and characterization made the book fall somewhat short (I gave it three stars). Now his follow-up, Blood Will Follow is out, and while it improves in some areas, some flaws still carry over while the action has become, I thought, less compelling. I’m still giving this one three stars, but it’s a bit more shaky. Warning: spoilers for book one to follow.

Swords of Good Men introduced a Scandinavian setting set during a time of upheaval. Young King Olav is sweeping through spreading Christianity via the sword and trying to wipe out the old gods, who understandably don’t take kindly to the attempt and find themselves some proxy humans. The town of Stenvik becomes the crossroads of the dispute as Olav’s force, the townsfolk, and a group of faithful-to-the-Norse-gods raiders all meet for some old-fashioned Viking violence. By the end (here be spoilers), Olav has taken Stenvik and two of our main characters — Audun and Ulfar — have been “cursed” with not being able to die.

Blood Will Follow picks up shortly thereafter. The opportunistic healer Valgrad, who swiftly pulled out his in-case-of-successful-siege-by-Christians cross at the end of the Stenvik battle has been accepted as an advisor to Olaf. Really, though, what he wants is the Norse witch’s secret magic — the same magic that gave Audun and Ulfar their seeming immortality (Valgrad is the only one who saw evidence of this). He and a band of equally opportunistic Vikings head north in search of that magic. Meanwhile, Ulfar and Audun, who had left Stenvik together, separate, with Ulfar heading home to inform his uncle of the death of his son and Audun heads south. Neither of them, however, is able to run from what has happened to them, and neither finds sanctuary where they hope to. Violence follows both, nor are the gods done meddling with their lives.

My big problem with the POV in book one, Swords of Good Men, was that it moved far too quickly from one to the other. That seems to be less true in Blood Will Follow, and I appreciated spending more time in each segment (mostly we switch amongst Ulfar, Audun, and Valgrad). Or at least, I appreciated it in terms of readerly focus and authorial style. I was less enamored with the content of their segments, though. Basically, Blood Will Follow is a road-trip novel. Each character is traveling a goodly distance and the book is therefore a picaresque collection of ad hoc adventures. None of which particularly interested me, save one or two. Too often I felt like I was moving through points B, C, D, etc. just so the author could get a character from Point A to Point Z. If the scenes had some more depth to them — a means to deepen or fill out my understanding of character, say (they did to some extent, but not enough to warrant the time) — or even a more robust stylistic/linguistic verve, I might have been more tolerant, but mostly they just felt plodding. And so pacing, as in book one, remains a problem.

Another carry-over issue — I just don’t find the main characters particularly intriguing. The few scenes where the book came more alive occurred because the side characters (Odin, a strong-willed widow, a sharp-tongued female prisoner) were much more compelling than the major ones. On the one hand, this is an improvement over the first book, which mostly had forgettable minor characters. On the other hand, it isn’t a great thing when the three characters you spend the most time with are made pale shadows by the more minor characters.

Other issues from book one still remain noticeable, even if they’re relatively minor—dialogue sometimes is jarringly modern, transitions can be abrupt, settings a bit thin, etc. On a positive note, the sense of this being a pretty realistic portrayal of the time and place continues — it’s a rough and tumble, violent and mostly ugly world, filled with cruelty and crudeness and the occasional bright spots of humor or human connection.

It’s not giving much away to say that by the end stories converge somewhat. I just wish the journey to get to that point had been more meaningful. It seemed to me that could have happened in the first third or half of this book and then carried forth. As it is, Blood Will Follow feels a bit like it falls into that dreaded second book trap — more a placeholder than a novel that moves plot and character forward. I’ll still pick up book three, but I’m hoping for better.

Publication Date: January 6, 2015. Starburst magazine called Snorri Kristjansson’s Swords of Good Men–the first volume in the Valhalla Saga–“A cracking yarn (one that would make a great movie), filled with enough to satisfy any fan of Vikings and their mythology.” Now this raucous and gripping fantasy adventure set in Viking Norway continues with Blood Will Follow, where plundering and pillaging are a way of life and creature comforts rarely exceed a mug of sour mead. Ulfar Thormodsson and Audun Arngrimsson are battered, having barely survived the battle for Stenvik, waged between King Olav and the followers of the White Christ, and those whose allegiance remains to the gods of the Norse pantheon. Alas, the two Vikings’ encounter with a mysterious witch just before escaping the town over the city’s walls have left them without the one thing that made them human: their mortality. While Ulfar heads home to Sweden, hoping to find a safe haven where he can come to grips with his newfound inability to die, Audun travels by foot to the south, searching for answers on the open road. But both men are about to discover that they cannot run from their destiny. King Olav has left the conquered town of Stenvik in the hands of his lieutenant so he can journey north, following the advice of the scheming healer Valgard, to hunt for the source of the Vikings’ power. Soon, Ulfar and Audun will realize they have important roles to play in the battle for supremacy between those seeking to spread the gospel of the White Christ and those who keep to the old ways of Odin, Thor, and Loki.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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2 comments

  1. I just read a disappointing second book in a series too. I always hope, magically, that the things I didn’t like in Book One will have changed in Book Two, even though realistically Book Two is already written and in the pipeline when I’m reading the first one, so the author hasn’t had the benefit of my wisdom yet. I mean surely once they read our reviews they’re going to fix the writing deficits we’ve helpfully pointed out, right?

    Shall we each hold out hope for our respective Book Threes?

    • That’s a god point about how so much of book two is already done, so why expect big changes. Readers–always the optimists . . .

      Crossing my fingers for both book threes

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