STARRED REVIEW
August 01, 2017

An epic saga begins

By Linnea Hartsuyker
Review by

The Half-Drowned King is an essential new novel for fans of the medieval novels of Bernard Cornwell, the character-driven Tudor novels of Hilary Mantel or the violent fury of “Game of Thrones.”

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When a book is billed as a historical epic set in ninth-century Norway, with the evocative title The Half-Drowned King, there are certain expectations. A book like that should deliver great deeds by hardened warriors, kings cloaked in furs, great feasts, harrowing sea voyages and brutal battles. With this novel, the first in a promised trilogy, Linnea Hartsuyker delivers all of those historical epic goods. Then, she digs deeper.

In the ninth century, Norway is still a fragmented land ruled by many kings, but a prophecy promises that one king will rise to rule the whole land. That king is Harald, an ambitious young warrior whose name rings through history and Hartsuyker’s narrative. Her heroes are two characters playing smaller roles in this saga of kinghood. Ragnvald, the titular half-drowned warrior, is a man driven by a quest to take back his lands from his domineering stepfather Olaf. Svanhild, his sister, longs for a life beyond Olaf’s farm, a life where she’s not promised to a man she doesn’t wish to marry. Everything changes for them when Ragnvald is nearly murdered in an attempt to wipe away his family’s claim to land and title. As Ragnvald fights for revenge, Svanhild fights for freedom, and both end up at the center of history.

Everything you want from a medieval saga set during this crucial period of Norwegian history is here, from massive battles to honor-fueled duels to rituals and supernatural visions. What sets The Half-Drowned King apart is the way Hartsuyker renders it all. Her tales of great Viking deeds are given all of the epic gravity they require, but the character drama is what makes this novel addictive. In Ragnvald we see the proud warrior beset by vulnerability, self-doubt and moral ambiguity, and in Svanhild we see a powerful spirit longing to break free, discovering her own cunning and intellectual ferocity in the process. As they trade off chapters and the story barrels toward clash after clash, the timelessness of the tale becomes clear. Hartsuyker has captured an era with precise, powerful prose imagery, but she’s also vividly envisioned two enduring characters.

The Half-Drowned King is an essential new novel for fans of the medieval novels of Bernard Cornwell, the character-driven Tudor novels of Hilary Mantel or the violent fury of “Game of Thrones.”

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The Half-Drowned King

The Half-Drowned King

By Linnea Hartsuyker
Harper
ISBN 9780062563699

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