The New Zealander folklorist completed her historical fantasy the Sevenwaters Trilogy with Child of the Prophecy (2002), set amidst conflict between Vikings and Picts in the Light Isles of Orkney.
Now, focusing on a male main character, the Viking warrior Eyvind, a would-be Wolfskin, Marillier’s story tells of the transition in Orkney between the Picts, inheritors of Iron Age ancestors and more recent Celtic immigrants, and the cultural revamping brought about by arrival of the fearsome Norse, whose invasion filters Viking gods into the populace by intermarriage and creates Norse dominance and the rise of Thor as god of warriors. Marillier re-creates these Pictish/Viking peoples as the Folk, with her own king Engus. This is as well the story of the berserks (“bear shirts”), or Wolfskins (ulfhednar), the ultimate warriors and elite strike force of kings and noblemen, who are sworn to Thor rather than to the trickier Odin, with the Wolfskins’ blood oath of loyalty a promise to a god. Thus it is that Eyvind, who seeks to be a Wolfskin and honor the battle god, and his older brother Ulf, set forth from their icy homeland to cross the sea to the fabled island where they can earn glory and their own farms. At this point, the story turns on a spiritual split between Eyvind’s honor and that of his best friend, crooked-smiling Somerled. Does Somerled’s deep spark of goodness remain, or must Eyvind strike him down?
Strong stuff, all gristle: Not a soft or sappy word.