Northlanders, Book Two: The Cross and the Hammer – Brian Wood

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Apr 152012

THE CROSS AND THE HAMMER collects the second storyline from the Northlanders series and if anything is even more grim and bloody than the first volume, SVEN, THE RETURNED. It’s set in Ireland in the year 1014, a land occupied by Vikings who set out to crush any resistance. A Cistercian priest named Magnus is part of that resistance. In fact, he’s practically a one-man resistance by himself as he wages a guerrilla war against the Vikings, slaughtering dozens of them, with only the help of his adolescent daughter Brigid. So the king of the Vikings sends in a legendary manhunter known as Ragnar to track down Magnus and destroy him.
This is a fine piece of gritty historical fiction. The only real fantasy element is that Brian Wood’s scripts again include some deliberately anachronistic language, but if you’re willing to accept that going in, it’s not really a distraction. I’m a stickler for such things only if an author sets himself or herself up as a paragon of historical accuracy and then doesn’t live up to it. If you’re not playing by those rules from the get-go, I’m fine with it and will approach a story just as a story. And Wood tells a good story, with a wicked twist in the end.
The artwork in this volume is by Ryan Kelly. I’m not familiar with his work, but I like what he’s done here. As in the previous volume, some of the landscape pages are very effective, and his battle scenes are pretty good, too.
I liked the first volume in this series, and THE CROSS AND THE HAMMER is even better. I have the others on hand and will be getting to them fairly soon, I expect.

Northlanders, Book One: Sven the Returned – Brian Wood

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Feb 222012

You know me and swordfights. There are plenty of them in NORTHLANDERS, BOOK ONE: SVEN THE RETURNED, a trade paperback collection of the first eight issues of the comic book series NORTHLANDERS. There’s nothing swashbuckling about this swordplay, however. It’s grim and bloody, like the lives of the Vikings living in the conquered Orkney Islands in the year 980.
One of them, Sven, has just returned from several years of roaming the known world as a mercenary, pirate, and soldier of fortune. He’s come back to his homeland because he’s gotten word that his father is dead and his villainous uncle Gorm has seized power. Naturally Gorm doesn’t want to relinquish Sven’s proper birthright, and he’s got the warriors on his side, so Sven has to go into hiding and launch a guerrilla war against his uncle.
Gorm may be the bad guy in this story, but Sven isn’t exactly what you’d call heroic, either. He kills quickly and sometimes unnecessarily, he uses people for his own ends, often to their disadvantage, and he can’t really be trusted, at least starting out. He does change some in the course of events, but he’s still not a very sympathetic protagonist.
The deliberately anachronistic language in Brian Wood’s script bothered me at first, but I stuck with it and was glad I did, because I got caught up in the story. (And it helps that the anachronisms diminish considerably as things go along.) I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along the way somebody pitched this series as “DEADWOOD with Vikings”, because that’s the sort of feeling it conjures up, and ultimately it’s almost as involving as DEADWOOD. The art by Davide Gianfelice is okay, not always to my taste but not bad, and some of the sweeping landscape scenes are really good.
I have the second NORTHLANDERS trade paperback and plan to read it soon. I don’t know how many there are after that, but there’s a good chance I’ll pick them up, too. This is good, gritty historical adventure, and if you have a taste for that, you should give this series a try.