Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fin Gall

Fin Gall: A Novel of Viking-Age Ireland
© 2013 James Nelson
290 pages

When a Danish longboat happened upon a small Irish craft on the rough seas , it found more than quick booty.  Onboard the boat was the Crown of the Three Kingdoms, a priceless artifact more precious for its political import than for its jewels. Whomever was granted the Crown gained the allegiance of the major kingdoms of Ireland; what price in gold or influence would the Irish tribes pay to have it restored?  Alas for the crew of the Red Dragon, the Irish weren't the only ones fighting among themselves-- for Dubh-linn, a booming Danish ship-fort, has been taken by the Norwegians!  So begins Fin Gall, a story of medieval war and adventure amid frantic infighting.

 In a surprisingly crowded field of Viking fiction,  Fin Gall distinguishes itself through its Irish setting and the well-crafted naval scenes.   The fractious nature of Ireland, made worse by competing Scandinavian clans crafting alliances with and against the Irish tribes, provides the basis of the plot. One Irish lord has been named chief, another resents it; one Norse lord wants to dominate Ireland,  an underling resents it;  much backstabbing ensues. The Red Dragons spend the book tripping over entangled alliances,  brawling, and hustling away.   The lead character, Thorgrim Nightwolf, is an interesting sort, so cunning that his men think he can transform into a wolf and gain a foretaste of the future through his dreams. His motives throughout the novel are refreshingly decent:  though he has come to Ireland to raid and plunder, he spends most of the book trying to keep his son Harold and an elder relation safe from Norwegians, Irish princes, and women. There's a lot of pungent boasting, though not quite as riotous as Cornwell's, and two back-to-back sex scenes which little changes but the name of the Irish lass involved.  Those Irish ladies are the weakest point here: they both encounter captive Danes, both help them escape for private motives, and both wind up randomly sleeping with the Dane in question.  The play-by-play is not especially awkward, but anything beyond "And they went to bed" is more information than I care to read.   After much danger has been out-lived, through both wit and luck, the book ends with a nice hook for the next novel: Dubh-Linn.

I'll definitely be pursuing this series, as both of its 'hooks' are well-set for me. Most Viking fiction I've read takes place far inland, but this had a multitude of maritime scenes, and they made the savage sea really come alive. I also appreciated the way the Irish were handled here in general,  aside from the two women who blurred together.  They will probably become more distinct in further books, especially considering that one is a princess with a Danish in the oven.



  1. I think it's a surprisingly crowded field for two reasons. It's an interesting period - though not for those living through it I suspect - and there's still much about the era that we don't know, which leaves the author with plenty of room for literary maneuver.

  2. That was certainly true for "Leofric": the author said in his notes that we don't know a thing about the Angles prior to their arrival in Britain, so he'd filled in gaps by looking at the records of their neighbors.

    One part of the Viking appeal is that they're basically familiar, but a touch exotic.


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