In his historical note, S.J.A.Turney tells us that when he decided to approach the Vikings as historical subjects, he was determined to do something new with them. In Blood Feud, he delivers novelty in the most exciting of ways. Leaving behind pillaged English monasteries and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Turney instead takes the reader on a bloody and tumultuous odyssey across the northern and eastern reaches of early-medieval Europe. Along the way battles rage, alliances rise and fall, and inescapable fate stalks good and bad men alike.
Based upon a combination of historical record, material culture, Swedish saga and vivid imagination, Blood Feud follows Halfdan as he seeks to fulfill a blood debt against Yngvar, the man who killed his father. Under the shadow of a Völva’s (seer’s) prophecy and dogged by the fear his father’s killer will meet a glorious end in battle, Halfdan and his newly acquired crew follow Yngvar’s army east, desperate to ensure fate does not interfere with Halfdan’s promise to kill the man himself.
The story takes us from rural Sweden to sprawling Kiev, the treacherous shores of the Black Sea and even to the end of the world as our characters know it. Across this huge swathe of land, we meet the fierce nomadic Pecheneg’s, the terrifying battle-hardened Alani, and explore the complex internal politics of Georgia; new landscapes and peoples for a new take on the Viking tradition.
Indeed, readers not only get to see the Northmen interact with other cultures, but there is a persistent exploration of the changes happening within wider Northern-European culture. Our protagonist Halfdan and his crew are amongst the few remaining Swedes (at this time made up of Svears and Geats) who follow the old gods. Juxtaposing the traditional beliefs we expect to see in a Viking story with Christianity adds engaging tension and conflict to the plot, whilst also asking questions of the characters and readers, all of whom come to the story with clear ideas of what it means to be a ‘real’ Viking.
The writing is tight, compelling and impactful, pushing the story along at a clipped pace whilst creating a rich historical and geographical landscape. The main cast of characters are interesting and varied, their morality often grey and their motives and relationships complex.
Old Norse spellings (such as Valhöll instead of Valhalla) immerse the reader into the world of the story, whilst the careful use of Seiðr (magic) in the plot accommodates both historical attitudes and modern sensibilities. Turney’s writing is at its very best, though, during the book’s many battle sequences. The gruesome descriptions of fighting and the clever portrayal of battle strategies will satisfy any lover of this genre and period, whilst the sharp pacing and evocative language will get even a casual reader’s blood pumping.
In all, this is a well-executed and fresh take on the Vikings, incorporating intriguing themes and pulse-pounding action. If you’re looking for high-octane historical fiction, you can’t go far wrong with Blood Feud.