Page 45 Review by Stephen
Nothing comes free or easy. The good life always requires a turn through the shit from time to time.
Aint that the truth? Some turns are shittier than other, though, and the good life is not guaranteed.
Each one of these self-contained Viking sagas has been as exceptional as it has been varied: you never know what youll find dug up from its history and hammered into narrative next. Here Brian Wood conjures ten generations of family feuding beginning in 871 when its earliest settlers a family of three heaved their scant possessions salvaged from Norway onto its far from fecund soil. Life was hard but at least they were free. Within a year, however, they were followed by others driven out by the land grabs back home, fleeing the rule of hated King Harald. These were larger families bringing strength in numbers backed up by the weight of their swords.
So it is that Ulf Haukssons merchant father takes it upon himself to toughen his son up in the most brutal of fashions, thereby creating a monster.
Neither of them could look at me for weeks.
This was valuable time for me. It allowed me the chance to detail and catalogue my hatred, to fully articulate, in my mind, who deserved what and why.
That morning my parents had a son. By that evening, as a result of my fathers efforts to teach me cruelty and violence, they had something very different on their hands.
What follows is that afternoons legacy: two centuries of ever-escalating struggles for power as the population expands and sustainable self-governance crumbles under the weight of numbers, the influence of those still in thrall to Norway and corruption in the form of Christianity and its Holy Men with their insidious schemes to divide, conquer and then reap the spoils in the form of hegemony and wealth.
Marriage plays no small part in this. Indeed its all about family and two fathers are going to find out precisely how sharp the serpents tooth is before their lives are done.
Structurally, this is stunning. Three chapters each devoted to three separate snapshots spanning two hundred years. The first barely boasts a population to speak of, but by 999 a port has been established and the Haukssons have built a heavily fortified compound. It isnt, however, impervious. Here is a daughter:
I was taught to keep books when I was six years old. I am literate where Mar is not. The Hauksson men fight, the women administrate.
And together we dominate. The society of Iceland is balanced on our stacks of silver and gold, our sword at its throat.
Which makes the attempt on my life unthinkable.
The familys gained ground through guile and good judgement, but its not immune to being goaded and about to meet its match. As for 1260, it is to despair but then so it goes, eh?
NORTHLANDERS has played host to a magnificently strong set of artists and Azaceta is on glorious form in his tale of innocence bludgeoned to death, while Zezeljs jagged plains of ice and snow and treacherous, shadow-strewn ravines are freezing. You wouldnt cross them without a thick pair of boots. His hair and beards are as matted as you can imagine and probably crawling with lice. Theres one page which starts out with a lamb so startlingly lovely you wonder what its doing there its quite the contrast to whats gone before. By the time you reach you bottom, though, youll be thinking, Oh, well, that makes sense!
And thats it for NORTHLANDERS, Im afraid, cut down in its prime because short-sighted bean-counters failed to see well be selling these books for years. For generations, I hope, as long as we dont do anything stupid.