I've been meaning to get back into Giles Kristian's writing for a long, long time, and picked up God of Vengeance (The Rise of Sigurd #1) when it was on sale not so long ago. Perhaps it's because I've really enjoyed The Last Kingdom as well as the source material (Bernard Cornwell's books), and just a general fuzz for anything Viking Age related – so God of Vengeance really just pushes all the right buttons for me currently.
First off, Kristian writes combat sequences well, and with a ring of authenticity that is hard to find in the historical fiction or even epic fantasy genres. He really makes you feel like you're present, as a reader, and the cast of characters he brings to life is diverse and complex.
We start the journey with young Sigurd, son of the jarl Harald. And the worst happens to a young man – his entire family is killed in a plot by a crooked king, and unsurprisingly, our enterprising lad vows vengeance. The only problem is he's got no boat, no resources, and no warband – to go up against a bunch of back-stabbing wolves who hold all the power. And not only that, they've taken his sister, Runa, to be married against her will to a man she doesn't love.
So, yeah, Sigurd's got a huge axe to grind, and this story is all about how he gets his stuff together, against all odds, to rescue Runa and spill his enemies' blood. And a lot of warning: so. Much. Blood. Kristian also skirts around the edges in terms of the supernatural. We never know if the gods are real or whether Odin really does favour Sigurd, but enough happens to show how the gods' actions are all too real to their believers. While Sigurd claims to be favoured by Odin, a boast that will make most god-fearing folks reconsider whether they want to cross him, we must remember that Odin is not exactly a kind nor gentle god, and for all victories claimed in Odin's name, a terrible blood price must be paid.
This action-packed revenge-epic is just right. Now excuse me while I toddle off to pick up book 2.