My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction, Early eighth century Scandinavia
First published: 2017
Pages: 581 (590 with Historical Note, acknowledgements)
From the cover:
Hakan, son of Haldan, chosen son of the Lord of the Northern Jutes, swears loyalty to his father in fire, in iron and in blood. But there are always shadown that roam.
When a terrible tragedy befalls Hakan’s household, he is forced to leave his world behind. He must seek to pledge his sword to a new king. Nameless and alone, he embarks on a journey to escape the bonds of his past and fulfil his destiny as a great warrior.
Whispers of sinister forces in the north pull Hakan onwards to a kingdom plagued by mysterious and gruesome deaths. But does he have the strength to do battle with such dark forces? Or is death the only sane thing to seek in this world of blood and broken oaths?
What an absolutely fantastic, fantabulous book this is. A fully-fledged epic, in, appropriately enough, the Icelandic Saga tradition, Bursting with incident, atmosphere and magic. Packed full of emotion and not just for the characters. I went from love, to hate, and all in-between, and back again, all in the course of a chapter. Undeniably essential reading for anyone with even half an interest in the Viking age, or good Historical Fiction, with a fantasy, fantastic edge, at all.
From serenity and a future of unlimited promise, to the darkest of times anyone, no-one, Viking or not, should ever be forced to go through, to a fresh start away from all and everything you know and love, from the lowest lows to the highest highs and all matter of emotions in-between, this is Viking Saga-like writing of the absolute finest kind.
The first ‘section,’ is packed with bombshells , until…and then, well it hits you
Set your face to stun! I had to ‘take a moment’ I can assure you of that. It starts being set in northern Jutland (as it is now, to you), Nordjylland – or ‘just up the road’ – as it is to me. So that was a home-run right from the beginning. Then the fresh start in a new land, new people, new culture, a long way from home…well, again, it’s what I did some fifteen years ago. Maybe that’s why I felt such an immediate connection with Hakan, or Erland as he must become.
If I were to compare it with other Viking-era classics, I’d point to Paul Watkins’ ‘Thunder God’ in sheer scope and continued Viking energy, to Frans G. Bengtsson’s ‘The Long Ships’ for the saga-like feel, and then through Beowulf, to Michael Crichton’s ‘Eaters of The Dead,’ ‘The Thirteenth Warrior.’ For the otherworldly terror and a smattering of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and the shapeless, ‘nameless evil’ boys. Some C.S. Lewis ‘The Silver Chair’? Some Tad Williams ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ along the way.
At a couple of points later on, I did have to ask myself why this also felt like it had a fantasy edge or tinge to it…but then, I reasoned, the fantastic things that are seen here, are how the peoples of Scandinavia saw their world at the time – for that inspiration, I can partly thank recently reading Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough’s excellent (soon to be reviewed) ‘Beyond The Northlands.’ It was, is, how they saw their world. If they didn’t have the means, the personal experience to explain what they saw, then they had to call it magic, the gods, the otherworld, the powers that owned their world. That’s how it was. In a similar vein, along the lines of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
A Mighty Dawn is a book to sink yourself in, to submerge, to lose yourself in, to be carried away with some of the best Historical Fiction you’ve ever read. In fact, I’m wondering when I last read an HF book as good as this. And coming up empty. Oathbreaker springs to mind – and not just because it was the last one I read (so there!) – but i’m not going to try and get a cigarette paper down between those two.
A Mighty Dawn is more than just a book, it’s an experience. Once read, never forgotten. This is going to be the book I will be comparing all similarly themed epics against ‘It’s good, but is it as good as ‘A Mighty Dawn’? Not many will be.