Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Sea Queen

The Sea Queen by Linnea Hartsuyker
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, historical-fiction

Unna made a skeptical noise and tightened her arm in Svanhild’s “Every man will fail you eventually,” she said. “Look to your own future.”

…She seemed to be carved of ice and fire, not the wood and earth that made up most people.
In volume two of The Half-Drowned King trilogy, Ragnwald, (the glug-glug royal of book 1, henceforth referred to as Rags) is off engaging in battles to secure as much of Norway as possible for King Harald, and suffers a bad oopsy when he is tricked into attacking Harald’s men. Although he quickly recovers, damage is done that will inform the rest of the story. Some guy named Atli, and his armed associates, stroll into Sogn, Rags’s property, and take over. Definitely bad optics for King Harald’s right hand man to lose his own turf so easily. Of course it is tough to defend your turf when you are away so often at war.

Linnea Hartsuyker - image from her site

Svanhild, to be referred to here as Svan, is an attentive student of her husband, the raider (inspired by Loki) Solvi, and has become a fine seawoman. But their son does not share their aqueous inclinations. Svan wants to have some land on which to raise him, so off to Iceland, a place many turned to as an escape from the constant warring in Scandinavia, and the taxes imposed by new rulers. Sure, it has some issues with volcanism (don’t know if the early settlers were beset by fairies yet), but it was possible for any enterprising Viking to claim a plot of land (that was not already claimed, of course) by measuring out the turf he (or she) could walk a bovine in a set period. (Run, Elsie, run!) Domestic bliss does not ensue, as Solvi would prefer to win back his ancestral land in Norway, and is insensitive to his son’s needs. Svan is faced with some pretty serious choices, however much these crazy kids are drawn to each other. By being part of Solvi’s company, Svan is put into the position of having to make war on her brother, Rags, and a very hunky guy who has the hots for her, King Harald. What’s a budding Boadicea, a vivacious Valkyrie to do?


Complications are present everywhere, helped along by a polygamous society, assuring competition, overt and concealed, among the not-always-so-sisterly wives, for benefits (better lodging, food, clothing) for themselves and their children (a high place in the hierarchy of who will inherit the most from papa), not to mention concubines, and their rug rats. There is plenty of family feuding as well, among brothers mostly, for who deserves daddy’s approval (land, army, and throne). As one might imagine this leads to some bad decisions. And kings being kings, and princes being princes, feeling that they can do whatever they want without consequence, there are some feckless, cruel deeds committed, which, according to Newton’s laws of physics, entail opposite reactions.

Not all the bi-horned raider sorts are the same. Some trust to fate and feelz, while other players are more strategic, able to see entire chessboards instead of only single moves. This perspective leads to using people as pawns in the larger game. Does that make them bad people? Or just smart ones? Sometimes the pawns resent being used.

Faroe Islands - shot from LH’s Tumblr

Between the sundry family and military battles, the back-stabbings, the plotting, and the double-dealing, you might be reminded of Game of Thrones. One difference, though, between, this and tGot, as well as a difference between this and the prior volume in the series, is the absence of magic. Sorry, no dragons, white walkers, queens giving birth to eggs, no people or other creatures returning from the dead, et al. This is not a fantasy novel, but a historical one. The series tells of the creation of Norway, using real, historical characters, with a few made-up ones included to smooth the story-telling. The first volume dipped into the vision thing, for a bit of fantasy, based nicely in the religious beliefs of the age. This time, not so much. Although it is not entirely clear whether Harald’s mother, Ronhild, a respected healer, might not be adding a dash of witchery into her herbal potions. And Harald does still seem blessed by the gods. Hartsuyker even mentions in an interview that he was so unrelentingly successful that he became too boring to use as the main character, leading her to look elsewhere for focal points.

The first novel split its attention between the two siblings, Rags and Svan, with a preponderance of ink given to the Ragstime. This time (and the title should clue you in to this) more attention is paid to the ladies, although Hartsuyker maintains a pretty reasonable balance between the hims and hers. Hartsuyker is interested not only in how Norway came to be, but in the roles of men and women in the struggle for its creation.

Replica of a 9th century Viking ship – image from Ancient-Origins.com

She talked about this in an interview for The Qwillery:
I’m very interested in the ways that women could navigate the challenges of a pre-modern society. I wanted my women characters to be plausible for the time-period, while reflecting the fact that women are people, every bit as much as men, and would rebel, have ambitions, and struggle against their limitations. I’ve tried to represent different ways that women would deal with a violent society in which they had fewer rights than today: Hilda [Rags’s wife] goes along to get along, Ascrida [Svan and Rags’s mother] is nearly broken by what she’s endured but still tries to make choices to keep her family safe, Vigdis [Rags’s and Svan’s stepmother] uses her sexuality to further her ambitions, and Svanhild, the heroine, makes rash and idealistic choices, and then has to face the consequences.
Svan is truly Svan in a million, sustaining the independent spirit she demonstrated in volume 1, absorbing knowledge like a sponge, standing up for what she believes is right, and having the courage to make extremely difficult choices. She is referred to by both Solvi and Harald as a Sea Queen, and makes good on the title.

In the Genre Bending Interview, Hartsuyker talks about the ancient world as offering the same appeal as dystopian, post-apocalyptic tales, as the people had minimal tech, and kinetic conflict was primarily physical as opposed to technological. No drone strikes or programmed viruses in ancient Norway.

Pimngvellir, site of the ancient Icelandic Parliament – image from Icelanmdmonitor.mbl.is

Gripes are few here. I hoped for more of the fantastical element, which was more overt in the first book, but more undercover here. Being an adult male, I would have liked to have seen more of the kinetic conflict from an immediate perspective, instead of having so much of it reported after the fact. There is also the eternal problem of second books in a series. One of the great joys in reading any series is getting to know the characters as they are introduced. Once we know them, that tingle is gone. The shininess of book one is maybe a shade less sparkly the second time around, but there is certainly enough going on to keep one interested, and enough new faces and situations to add extra depth and color.

This guy might make a pretty good Solvi - image fr0m apple mania.co

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the palace intrigue and exploring the characters’ palette of thoughts and feelings about the challenges they faced. Rags’ continuing struggle to do right by his family and his king, could echo any 21st century man’s challenge in balancing work and family. The themes that permeate the novel, while well-grounded in this ancient time, resonate with life today.
I don’t think it’s possible to write a book that doesn’t comment on social issues. Novels express the values of the writer whether we want them to or not. The characters in [this trilogy] deal with issues of their time, but even these are expressions of timeless questions: how do we balance freedom and security, what do we look for in our leaders, how far will we go for justice or vengeance? I’ve tried to show both the rewards and costs of different ways of answering those questions.
Not to mention eternal themes of love and passion, which figure large here. Be sure to stay away from Wikipedia or Viking history sites if you want to keep the conclusion of it all from spoiling your enjoyment of these novels. They are based on actual history. But if you can manage that, you are in for a treat. The Sea Queen is a worthy successor to The Half-Drowned King, and an intriguing bridge to the final book in the series, The Golden Wolf, due out Summer 2019. Hop aboard. You will enjoy the ride, and take off that silly hat.

Review posted – August 17, 2018

Publication date – August 14, 2018

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter pages

Items of interest
----- The Qwillery -– Tuesday, August 1, 2017
----- Fantasy Literature - Linnea Hartsuyker: Five Surprising Things I learned about Vikings
-----Genre Bending - video – about 10 minutes
-----The Harper Book Queen included a look at this book in her TBR Tuesdays FB live broadcast from 8/14/18 - it's the first book covered
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Reading Progress

August 6, 2018 – Started Reading
August 14, 2018 – Shelved
August 14, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction
August 14, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
August 14, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by riyha (new)

riyha oh my god including love this book!

message 2: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Your pun-ishment is effective, Will.

Will Byrnes 😎

message 4: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Ah, that was a wonderfully descriptive review, Will. The enjoyment of your reading experience shines brilliantly throughout. Elated to see your 5 stars for this and will look immensely forward to picking this up.

"Run, Elsie, run!!!" - thanks for that visualization.

message 5: by Will (last edited Aug 26, 2018 09:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes And fewer letters than Ferdinand

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