'Lovers of epic rejoice!...A vivid and gripping read' Madeline Miller, author of the Orange Prize Winner 2012 for The Song of Achilles
'Linnea Hartsuyker brings myth and legend roaring to life in this superbly good page-turning saga of Viking-era Norway' Paula McClain, bestselling author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
Since the death of Ragnvald Eysteinsson's father in battle, he has worked hard to protect his sister Svanhild and planned to inherit his family's land when he comes of age. But when the captain of his ship tries to kill him on the way home from a raiding excursion, he must confront his stepfather's betrayal, and find a way to protect his birthright. It is no easy feat in Viking-Age Norway, where a hundred petty rulers kill over parcels of land, and a prophesied high king is rising.
But where Ragnvald is expected to bleed, and even die, for his honour, Svanhild is simply expected to marry well. It's not a fate she relishes, and when the chance to leave her stepfather's cruelty comes at the hand of her brother's arch-rival, Svanhild is forced to make the ultimate choice: family or freedom.
Drawing from the Icelandic Sagas, The Half-Drowned King takes inspiration from the true story of Ragnvald of Maer, the right hand man of King Harald Fairhair, first king of all Norway, and his sister, Svanhild, as she tries to find freedom in a society where the higher her brother rises, the greater her worth as a political pawn.
In her first novel, Hartsuyker brings to life the savage world of the Viking warriors of ninth-century Norway. Ragnvald Eysteinsson is on his way home from a raiding expedition across the North Atlantic when he is betrayed by his captain, Solvi Hunthiofsson, and flung overboard. Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald eventually returns home to his beloved sister, Svanhild, who is miserably betrothed to an older man, Thorkell. The source of both their unhappiness is their stepfather, Olaf Ottarsson, who plotted to have Ragnvald killed and Svanhild married off. Exposing his stepfather, Ragnvald goes off to fight alongside Harald Halfdansson, the future king of Norway. At the same time, strong-willed Svanhild finds escape in the form of Solvi, the self-confessed instrument of her brother's betrayal, who takes her as his latest bride. But Solvi is a sworn enemy of Harald, so what will happen when Ragnvald ultimately meets his brother-in-law in combat? The author, who can trace her lineage back to Harald Halfdansson, recreates the half-civilized, half-primitive landscape of his time, where a dragon boat sailing up a fjord struck dread in all who saw it. Befitting its subject matter, the book is replete with exciting battles, duels, and sieges, but the author makes Svanhild's domestic tribulations equally dramatic. In the end, this novel can stand proudly with Edison Marshall's The Viking and Frans G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships as an immersive fictional recreation of a bloody moment in Scandinavian history.