I’m sure you’re all pretty aware by now that I’m a massive lover of historical fiction. It’s a genre I really enjoy and one I try to read as much of as possible. That being said, a great proportion of the novels I do read tend to centre upon the Victorian period. It’s only natural that this should be the outcome, as I am a Victorianist through and through. Even so, I do really enjoy learning more about other periods, and I always want to increase my historical knowledge. When I received a copy of Kin, a book by Snorri Kristjansson described as a ‘Viking mystery’, I was quickly drawn in. Not only did it offer a more unusual historical period, it also promised an engaging plot.
The novel itself focuses upon the Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson and his ferocious family. Everyone is certain that after settling down with his wife and leaving the battle behind him, Unnthor hid away a great chest of treasure. Now, Unnthor’s adoptive daughter Helga is awaiting the arrival of her siblings. These are the brothers and sisters she has never met, but has heard startling tales about; the siblings who she senses are coming to visit their parents with dark thoughts in their minds. As the family reunites tensions begin to rise, the anger bubbling quickly to the surface until a scream shatters it all. Someone is dead, killed by the hands of their own family. But who is the murderer? What do they seek? And can Helga stop it from happening again?
As you might imagine, I was expecting this novel to be quite fast paced and very intriguing. The premise sounded very promising and I love a murder mystery so was really hoping for a well constructed plot with twists and turns. In reality, I found the plot to be extremely simplistic and lacking quite a lot in any real depth. Yes, the main crime does happen, and yes we don’t know at first who did it, but whereas you would expect the hunt for the killer to be exciting and tense, the entire novel felt slow and quite boring. Nothing really happened across the span of the book and even the bits which should have been shocking or interesting fell flat. I felt as if I waited the entire novel for something more to happen which never actually materialised.
I think that a lot of my issue with the plot was largely connected to the characters themselves. The simplest way to put it is that I found the characters to all be extremely two dimensional. I felt as if the author had tried so hard to get across this physically strong and aggressive Viking persona that all of the characters felt the same and read as gross exaggerations. None of the characters were interesting or felt like fully fleshed out individuals. The constant bravado between the siblings as to who was the strongest and who wielded the most control was extremely repetitive, and I longed for something other than a cast of incredibly stock characters who seemed to almost parody our view of Vikings.
Similar issues can be seen when you considered the authenticity surrounding the novel. I like my historical fiction to feel very accurate, the small miniature details of the period and the social contexts making for a vivid novel which I can actually feel confident in learning from. Sadly I did not get this from this novel. Now I know that relatively speaking we don’t know an awful lot about the Vikings and the wider middle ages, so I can understand that we’re not going to have the same wealth of detail that we would with my beloved Victorian period. That being said, the world we see here just seemed incredibly dull and basic. We don’t really get a clear picture of the setting or how the Vikings truly lived, except in quite a primitive way which felt quite lazy and as if the author was giving himself a way out. I didn’t really feel as if I trusted the author’s historical accuracy, because such little attention was actually paid to it.
One of the ways the above manifested itself quite clearly for me was in the dialogue used. Obviously the Vikings wouldn’t have spoken English like us, so that part I could understand and appreciate. What I did have a problem with though was the incredible anachronistic speech used throughout. Phrases like ‘You’re going down’, ‘ball-sacks’ (p. 70) and ‘wielding a scythe does wonderful things for your arse’ (p. 186), all felt extremely juvenile and much more akin to the language used within an American teenage television series. It never felt authentic or natural, and I could quite clearly see the author pulling the strings and trying to create tension between the characters. This kind of speech just felt too weird in contrast to this primitive, brutal way of lifestyle and just did not fit in at all with the Viking period. To be honest, the language was very childish and simplistic.
The thing I appreciated most about this novel was the handy family tree at the beginning. Whilst the dialogue and historical detail are lacking, I did think the characters names were well chosen. This did mean that I has trouble remembering each character because of their Viking names, so I did find myself flicking back a lot to the family tree to gather my bearings and remember who was connected to who.
As you can undoubtedly tell, I was really disappointed in this novel. This is actually the first part in a series following Helga, and I will definitely not be pursuing the next books. Sadly, this just did not meet my expectations.
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Disclaimer – I was very kindly sent this book in exchange for an honest review. I will only ever post my own honest opinions and will NOT write a favourable review in exchange for a complimentary book.