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Odin's Child: Book One of Odd Tangle-Hair's Saga Paperback – May 26, 2015
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"Meticulous research and poetic writing make Odin's Child a multilayered masterpiece ... It brings medieval Scandinavia vividly alive. Written with passion, peopled with superbly realised characters, I was gripped from the very first page of this historical novel."
- Carol McGrath, author of The Handfasted Wife and The Swan-Daughter(Carol McGrath)
About the Author
Bruce Macbain was born in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, he squandered whole days reading science fiction and history. Greek and Roman history held a special fascination for him and this led eventually to acquiring a master's degree in Classical Studies and a doctorate in Ancient History. As an assistant professor of Classics, he taught courses in Late Antiquity and Roman religion—which is a particular interest of his—and published a few impenetrable scholarly monographs, which almost no one read. He eventually left academe and turned to teaching English as a second language, a field he was trained in while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Borneo in the 60s.
Macbain has written a series of historical mysteries set in ancient Rome, (Roman Games, 2010, and The Bull Slayer, 2013) featuring the senatorial letter-writer Pliny the Younger as his protagonist, assisted by other literary figures such as the poet Martial and the biographer Suetonius. He also does a bit of book reviewing for the Historical Novels Review and Foreword magazine. Odin's Child is the first in his Viking series, The Odd Tangle-Hair Saga.
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That said, the year is A.D. 1029, in Iceland, where sixteen-year-old Odd Thorvaldsson―nick-named “Tangle Hair” because of the unruly mop atop his head―and his family travel to participate in a stallion fight competition. In the past, the winning stallion was sacrificed to a pagan god, but priests of the “Christmen” now forbid the practice; Scandinavian Christianity has taken a foothold among the old gods and superstitions of Icelanders. The event ends in brawl with Hrut, a neighbor who soon is suspected of raping a family member. Odd and his brother, Gunnar, confront him, resulting in two deaths that that must be judged murders or rightful feud killings at the summer Althing, a legal assembly that adjudicates grievances. Traveling there, Odd encounters his friend, Kalf. At the trial, hope for exoneration is shattered when lying witnesses, a bribed lawyer and his supporting witness defect to Hrut. Accused of murder, Odd and Gunnar are sentenced to life-long exile, otherwise the penalty is forfeiture of the family land. Dispirited, they return home, where Odd places himself under the protection his pagan god, Odin, not Christ.
The exile will be in two weeks. Gunnar knows a ship captain who will take the family to Greenland, but the women resist leaving. When Hrut arrives early to take over his farmstead, a fight breaks out; Gunnar is killed and the house burned. Wounded, Odd flees and is nursed by an uncle and Kalf. Stig, a cunning adventurer, recruits a crew that steals Hrut’s trading ship and sails with Odd toward Scandinavia.
Macbain’s saga takes us to dwarf-sized Laplanders, with their mysterious Ancient, a wizard that commands the spirits of their world and frees Odd from his depressed mental state. Sailing south to Norway, the crew puts in at a port where Christian King Olaf recruits followers to counter pagan opponents and consolidate his power. Macbain admits to tampering a bit with the Battle of Striklestad, but vividly describes the bloody action and aftermath. When Danish officials of King Canute arrive to rule the town, winter passes with Odd restless. In spring he bargains for a new ship he names Sea Viper. Sailing around Norway and Sweden into the Baltic Sea, the crew arrives at the country of Finns. Odd and his men are captured and witness a surrealistic scene―a plaza of severed heads rotting on stakes. The town is ruled by a vicious Headsman who is beholden to Louhi, reportedly the she-wizard guardian of a stone, phallic-like fetish. Odd eventually escapes to a friendly village ruled by Harald, half-brother of King Olaf. He takes a liking to Odd and invites him to be his skald-companion on a journey to Novgorod of the Rus. The saga continues….
A stunning cover and fine text illustrations are by Anthony Macbain.
Albert Noyer / Author of the Getorius and Arcadia Mysteries.
Ever since I did some research on Norse mythology for a project I wrote many years ago, I have been fascinated by the Scandinavian legends and mythology and history (it happens that this is my genealogical background, as well). And while there have been adventure stories based on the Norse gods, I am not aware of much literature that looks at the history in a fiction format. But now there is Bruce MacBain's 'Odd Tangle-Hair Saga' and it is brilliant.
<em>Odin's Child</em> is the first book in MacBain's saga and I will admit that while it caught my attention (and hence my request for a review copy), I was a little less than anxious to delve in to a re-telling of a Norse god story, because the Edda's by Snorri Sturluson are awfully good and don't really need a re-telling. After all, what else would this be, being called <em>Odin's Child</em>?
But this is NOT a retelling of the stories of the Viking gods. This is a well-researched historical fiction story of a young man, Odd, who is experiencing the transition of the worship of the old Norse gods to the new Christian god. He is a wanderer, a Viking, who experiences battles and imprisonment, friendships, expected and unusual, and the loss of friends. He is a story-teller, in the grand tradition, but he is also a fighter and ship's captain. He is a leader who is faithful to his followers.
This book relies on our attachment to the narrator, Odd Tangle-Hair, and fortunately MacBain has created a young man who is completely engaging while being appropriately modest and favored with fortune (he is, after all, Odin's child). We really do want him to succeed, given his treacherous beginnings, and like Einar and Stig and Glum, we'll follow and support him.
Due to the number of books I read and review, I set reading goals for myself -- number of pages and/or chapters -- and I regularly exceed my goals with <em>Odin's Child</em> because I kept wanting to read just a little more each time. That's always a mark of a good book for me.
If I were to make one complaint, it is that we do seem to move from one 'incident' to another, always putting Odd on edge and having to deal with something crucial. This is definitely in line with the Edda's and mythology story-telling, but in this context, I wouldn't have minded just a few more peeks at what a 'typical' day might have been like for Odd and his Viking friends. (And while I really like the beautiful cover as seen above, can anyone explain to me why the moon on the cover is dark on the side that faces the sun?)
I truly enjoyed this entire book, but I can say that I was most definitely hooked in the scene when Odd befriended Glum. You will have to read this book to understand who and what Glum is, and why this scene was so special.
I highly recommend this book. I can not wait for the next volume in the saga.
Looking for a good book? You've found one if you've picked up <em>Odin's Child</em> by Bruce MacBain. This is a must read.
I received an ARC of this book from the publicist in exchange for an honest review.