Fiction: historical Viking fantasy anyone?
I love discovering a new author that captures my intellect and imagination at the same time. Lars Walker’s book, “The Year of the Warrior,” did that for me. The book is brutal, real, historically rich, occassionally laugh-out-loud funny, and at times so painfully dark it reads like a head to head battle with the authentic problem of evil as posed by many moderns. How can a good God allow so much suffering and horror in the world, or in this case, in the world of ancient Norway at a time when Viking power was beginning to ebb.
Lars Walker, a Luthern Christian who hails from Minnesota, and a self-studied expert in Viking history, has successfully created a world where the gods, and legendary creatures of Viking mythology, are brought to life amidst a very real historical setting. Walker plumbs the depths of the dark ages as the pagan Norse religion is being supplanted by Christianity in Norway, 1000 A.D. Walker probes the uncomfortable horrors perpetrated by men in the name of Christianity: “Be baptized or die,” becomes the mantra of the Church. And fighting this misguided version of Christianity is the brutal religion of the Viking Norsemen. For any Christian reading this story, it is a harsh confrontation with an often overlooked slice of history…the inglorious, tragic attempt to win the world for Christ by the sword. However, Mr. Walker creates two of the most memorable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, Father Aillil an Irish priest who despises God, and a mighty Hersir named Erling, who as a Christian, aquires Aillil to be his priest.
Full of adventure, agonizing moral dilemma, titanic battles between men and gods, and a relentless barrage of drama and tragedy interspersed with theology and God himself. Considering the book was published by Baen Books, a major publisher of mass market fantasy and science fiction, I was surprised to find so much rich Christian thought threaded naturally into the story. As a fellow writer, Walker exemplifies for me how Christian authors aught to write fiction. Not for a niche Christian market, but for culture in general. And he succeeds brilliantly at this.
The writing itself is beautiful in its brevity (almost minimalistic, which is rare in most epic fantasy). I found an Amazon review that sums it up nicely:
“Walker is telling his own story — and what a storyteller he is — but his imagination is drawing on a much richer compost than (it seems to me) most authors command. Walker knows the Icelandic sagas, and has adapted the terse saga style for the modern fantasy reader . . . There’s human depth here, too. Walker gets me interested in characters without halting the story for extended patches to “work up” the description of the person. Here are men and women with blood in their veins.
I’m teaching an undergraduate course on modern fantasy. If I’d known of this book in time to include it in the reading list — where it would have been in the company of Tolkien, Le Guin, and Peake — I’d almost certainly have done so. I would have liked to include an example of really worthwhile swords-and-sorcery fantasy — and that’s what we have here!”
Walker’s newest book is Hailstone Mountain, another story following some of the same characters. I haven’t read it yet, but I will as soon as I get my hands on it.