Hinrichs’ (A Grownup’s Garden of Verse, 2009) historical fantasy tale sees a prince banished from his father’s kingdom and gaining experiences that he never found in books.
In 11th-century Nordland, King Stegnwahl has nine sons. The youngest, Ordowahl, is oversized and superficially loutish. However, he’s the only one among the king’s progeny with the valiance of heart and mind to inherit the throne. Ordowahl spends his teenage years mastering Greek and Roman classics, the tenets of Christianity, and the fighting arts. By age 17, his brothers loathe him because he’s surpassed them in every honorable field; cannily, Stegnwahl sends his favorite child out of the kingdom in order to save his life. The prince travels at first through the lands of his cousins, who invite him for weeklong stays that consistently involve women throwing themselves at him. He also sees menacing jackdaws that appear to follow him everywhere. Eventually, he meets a group of heathen Vikings, who befriend him and lead him to King Ingvik. Ordowahl predicts trouble after he takes Ingvik’s measure as an abusive snake, and he sticks close as the Vikings sail forth to pillage a distant land, hoping somehow to stem the carnage. In this homage to sword-and-sorcery icons, such as Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Hinrichs delivers an atmospheric adventure for lovers of history and poetry. Between chapters of narrative, he offers interludes of verse that summarize previous scenes of action; after a battle, for example, one reads, “Intently Ordowahl plucks lives like weeds / in prayer he turns to Father God, and pleads.” The prose is lovely, too, as in the line, “After dark the moon and sparkling stars emphasized the jagged tree line of the meadow’s edge.” Ordowahl’s journey from youth to potential regent is both hypnotic and elegant, leading to him facing his ultimate foe, the Black Knight, as shown in a flash-forward that opens the novel. The mage Heorald tells the prince, “Life is always in front of you, not behind,” which should stoke readers’ excitement for future installments.
A stately opening of an engaging new fantasy series.