I have followed the writing of Lars Walker for some time (at Brandywine Books, The American Spectator, etc.). And I was vaguely aware of this fiction writing but his books never bubbled up to the top of the reading pile for some reason.
So when Lars asked if I wanted a review copy of his latest work, West Oversea, it seemed like a good time to rectify this gap in my reading. I have been in a bit of a funk of late – not quite knowing what I want to read – and this seemed a good time to shake things up with something different.
And Lars’s fiction is different: historical fiction focused on the Norseman or Vikings but with a supernatural or spiritual component. Here is how his publisher descirbes his most recent book:
Lars Walker’s third novel about the Vikings begins in the year 1001. King Olaf Trygvesson is dead, but his sister’s husband, Erling Skjalgsson, carries on his dream of a Christian Norway that preserves its traditional freedoms. Rather than do a dishonorable deed, Erling relinquishes his power and lands. He and his household board ships and sail west to find a new life with Leif Eriksson in Greenland.
This voyage, though, will be longer and more dangerous than they ever imagined. It will take them to an unexplored country few Europeans had seen. Demonic forces will pursue them, but the greatest danger of all may be in a dark secret carried by Father Aillil, Erling’s Irish priest.
West Oversea turned out to be an entertaining read with action, intrigue, and philosophical, and spiritual, musings. This is not an easy blend to pull off, but Walker does it by not overdoing the commentary and skillfully mixing it in with the story’s supernatural aspect.
I have not read any of the previous works. And that isn’t really necessary as they are written to work both as a series and as stand alone books. I think having read the previous works would just give you a deeper understanding of the characters and the history.
The story has two main threads: Erling’s giving up his power and seeking out a different future than the one he had planned; and Father Aillil’s search for his sister Maeve. These two combine to lead Erling and Aillil to take a voyage to Greenland via Iceland. They plan to trade in order to make the trip profitable but it is also clear that Erling is seeking path forward.
A twist is that Father Aillil comes into possession of an eye that gives him the “sight” or the ability to see visions of the future. But this power is, not surprisingly, more difficult to resist and to wield than Aillil had originally thought. This brings both temptation and the potential for betrayal. On top of this, an old enemy is out to destroy Erling and he haunts the traveling party seeking its destruction at every chance.
Erling and Aillil travel to Iceland, get blown off course and end up visiting North America, before making it to Greenland and Leif Erickson. But what they find there is not what either Aillil or Erling was expecting. Events conspire to put Erling’s dreams about a possible settlement in the new lands they saw are put to rest and he is called home. This leads to a climatic battle and yet another supernatural surprise.
The historical elements of the story are well done. Walker brings this interesting period just after the introduction of Christianity to the Norse to life with interesting characters and descriptions of their mores and values. And he uses historical events to power the story create a story with both action and intrigue.
But he blends in to this both a supernatural element and a philosophical one. There is the supernatural battles that come from the intersection of the Christian faith with the gods and spirits of the Norse world. This adds a layer of mystery and danger to the story.
Along with this, Walker here and there weaves in some philosophical musings about the story of Western Civilization and its ideas about government and society. Using the supernatural aspect of the story – and Aillil’s unique gift of “the sight” – Walker looks both backward and forward in time to muse on the impact of what people believe on how they structure their government; and the consequences of such structures and beliefs.
None of this is too intrusive but it enlivens the story line with an interesting philosophical undercurrent to the people and events described.
So if you like historical fiction, particularly if you have an interest in the Vikings and their world, be sure to check out Lars Walker’s unique fiction and West Oversea. You will be rewarded with an entertaining story and some thought provoking ideas as a bonus.