Northlanders #1: Sven the Returned
by Brian Wood, Davide Gianfelice (Vertigo, 2008)

For a Norseman bred in the harsh Orkney winters, Sven leads a fairly idyllic life as an elite guard in Constantinople. However, when he learns of his father's death and his uncle's claim on Sven's own birthright, his pride drives him north to reclaim his lands and titles, if only long enough to pillage his homeland of his inherited gold before returning to sunnier climes.

But Sven, just one man against a brawny Viking clan, won't find the task as simple as he had hoped.

Sven the Returned is the first book in Vertigo's Northlanders series. Set in 980 A.D., it is rough-edged and brutal; the winter cold bites as keenly as the Viking swords, and the lives of the impoverished villagers are desperate and harsh. More interesting than Sven's lone campaign against his uncle's forces -- and believe me, there is plenty of swordplay packed in these pages -- is Sven's gradual transformation over the course of this tale. I'll let you find out for yourself where it leads, but it's probably not where you expect it to go.

There are weaknesses here -- anachronistic dialogue and an unsteady sense of the progression of time among them -- but overall this is a grim, realistic-seeming glimpse into the past that carries a punch.

review by
Tom Knapp

7 February 2009

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