An ambitious story of interclan feuding in Iceland set against sweeping European events in 1000 CE.
Kári Sigurdsson is a hero in Iceland–he boasts riches earned while fighting for the Norwegian King Olaf in England, a marriage to the daughter of one of the most powerful godar (or chieftains) and a prosperous farm. At the time Iceland is one of the most democratic countries in Europe; the legislative core of the Icelandic state is the Althing, an annual gathering where disputes are settled and the law maintaining order is enforced. After the murder of an innocent retainer, Kári slays the killer in a fair fight. Still, his adversary's father flouts the law, threatening Kári's homestead and ultimately inciting the murder of Kári's comrade-in-arms, Norwegian Bjorn Thorsteinson. When Kári sets out to avenge Bjorn's death, he comes up against the most powerful men in the land–as well as the treachery of his coldhearted, ambitious wife Helga. Seeking allies, Kári pleads his case to his own chieftain Egil, whose response is lukewarm. Iceland's system of governance has room for greed, loopholes and moral cowardice, but Kári's courage and sense of honor–bolstered by the support of Gudrid, Egil's beautiful crippled daughter–hold firm. Jansson's carefully researched descriptions of turf houses, vadmal (handwoven wool cloth), furniture, burial customs and the clash between pagans and Christians evoke comparison with Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders. The author laces the story with references to Iceland's connections with the rest of Europe, from Norway, Denmark and the Orkney Islands to France and Byzantium. While the early chapters are bogged down by an overabundance of characters and historic facts, the story picks up energy as it progresses, ultimately reaching a satisfying conclusion.
An accurate and engrossing tale for history buffs and Viking aficionados.