|Alice | Tin.it | Foto album | Disco remoto | Community|
The King of Vinland's Saga, 1998
In this ably constructed first novel Stuart Mirsky picks up where the skalds left off to relay a virile story of strife and endeavour on the primeval shores of the New World, in a voice that resonates across time from the days of the Vikings. The author's deliberate models are the Icelandic sagas and tales of high adventure like H. Rider Haggard's Eric Brighteyes. Mirsky's book vigorously revives the genre, with overtones of heroic tragedy as the protagonist advances relentlessly through a series of hardwon victories and bitter reverses to a moment of irrevocable choice imposed by forces beyond his control. His response to the final challenge is a triumph of personal integrity, but requires him to relinquish the aims and achievements for which he has struggled. The novel's implacable conclusion then brings the curtain of historical oblivion down on all further knowledge of his fate.
The emphasis is firmly on action, and there is plenty of it. Upon his father's death Sygtrygg, a grandson of Lief Eiriksson, seeks to claim his inheritance rights from Lief's sons, who begrudge him a fair share in Greenland and stingily try to fob him off with their father's nigh-forgotten landfall far across the western sea, only to cavil and go back on their sworn word when their serious-minded young kinsman accepts the chancy bargain. Hampered by foes and setbacks at every turn, Sygtrygg is forced to brave overpowering odds and fight his way past one obstacle after another to reach and found his Vinland homestead, impose his leadership on a turbulent crew, subdue warring native tribes, and hold onto what tooth and nail have won. He finally overreaches himself through the ambition to quench a mounting blaze of irreconcilable enmities and vindictiveness by taking two wives, in marriages that fulfill his heart's desires while crafting the alliances the King must forge. Standing beside him are two doughty companions, whose feats of extreme valour rival even Sygtrygg's heroics: the outlawed Arnliot, big, bold, brash, with his cursed battle-axe, and the old Viking Vragi, wise, experienced, and steady, whose unsuspected skills surface with decisive effect in every crisis.
Despite a slew of massed battles, ordeals of physical endurance, grimly confrontational single combats, and violently disputed lawsuits there is a damper on vivacity which seems to derive from the placid, steady-paced uniformity of narrative tone. The author has striven successfully to adopt a nonmodern voice without recourse to archaic language or stilted constructions. The prose is stringent and precise, the viewpoint objective but slightly remote, as if the words were coming to us from a great distance. Dialogue is often partially summarized by the narrator, as in this passage:Vragi agreed but said he thought it a good idea to leave two of their men with Sygtrygg on this side of the fjord, "since your kinsmen are not likely to be in any better mood now than they were when last we saw them."
While the dignity and impartiality of the narrative contribute to the credibility of the story, they also result in a levelling of individuality and a certain opacity. Filtered by the narrator, all characters speak alike; they are apprehended from outside through their acts alone and at a formal remove. So too are events. But the events are exciting enough that their immediacy breaches the restrictions imposed by the disciplined style.
The author has carefully researched his Norse sources and what little is known or suspected of Viking landings on the coast of North America. His presentation of laws and customs, the structure of society, economics, and seafaring technology rings with authenticity. The plotting is tight and does not overlook the singling out of a secondary character, witness to Sygtrygg's doomed venture, whose later retelling could hand the saga down to posterity. Mirsky is at work on a second novel set in a more ancient period; the high quality of his first effort will definitely make it a book to watch for.
© Wordreign, October 2000
Home Recent Books
Images from Myst © 1993 Cyan, Inc. All rights reserved. Myst® is a registered trademarksof Cyan, Inc. Used by permission.