Hakan, son of Haldan, chosen son of the Lord of the Northern Jutes, swears loyalty to his father in fire, in iron, and in blood. But there are always shadows that roam. When a terrible tragedy befalls Hakan’s household, he is forced to leave his world behind. He must seek to pledge his sword to a new king. Nameless and alone, he embarks on a journey to escape the bonds of his past and fulfil his destiny as a great warrior.
Whispers of sinister forces in the north pull Hakan onwards to a kingdom plagued by mysterious and gruesome deaths. But does he have the strength to do battle with such dark foes? Or is death the only sane thing to seek in this world of blood and broken oaths?
In the past few years I’ve developed a soft spot for vikings. Whether it’s Snorri Kristjansson’s exuberant adventures in his Valhalla Saga or Giles Kristian’s epic historical God of Vengeance, I’ve fallen for the mixture of kick-ass battles, deep mythology, history, and the hint of the supernatural that are often the ingredients of which the story is composed. When I received a review copy of Theodore Brun’s A Mighty Dawn I was excited as it was billed as a mixture of all my favourite viking elements. It was all it promised, though I was quite frustrated with its treatment of women. Despite this, I really enjoyed the book tremendously and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.
The structure of the narrative was interesting. The novel is divided in three parts and in each part our protagonist becomes a new man, he moves from being the chosen son to a stranger wandering the world to a man at arms to a new king. There are some elements of the hero’s journey, but not in the canonical way or format. Hakan leaves his home and his people, leaving behind everything, even his name. For much of the book he is known by his new name, Erlan. He is given a prophecy that he is destined for greatness, both in darkness and in light. He searches for a new purpose in life, a new place to belong, a new lord to serve. He meets a damsel and sets out to rescue her. Those are all elements that can be found in the hero’s journey, though whether this arc will be completed can only be said once the trilogy is wrapped up; this is just the first book in the series.
The fantastical elements to the narrative only show up later in the book. The earliest hints of the supernatural can be read as an extension of Viking mythology and beliefs, not as “actual” magic. This is why I think viking tales are such fruitful ground for cross-over books: while there is a strong historical base to them, the fact that much of their beliefs were pre-Christian and closely interwoven with everyday life allows for an easy twist into fantasy. The soothsaying in the first part is something that echoes through much of history. Many cultures had soothsaying rituals and believed firmly in them, whether they were true or not. However, the later parts contain truly fantastical encounters, once again rooted in Nordic mythology, but most probably not factual. Brun weaves all of this together in an elegant way, which made all of it into a believable whole.
My biggest grievance with A Mighty Dawn is the fact that the main female characters end up fridged or set up to be a damsel. I loved the character of Inga and the twist to her relationship with Hakan was fascinating, but I hated the conclusion to her arc. I wish Hakan’s decision to leave could have been motivated in a different way. Similarly, Lilla is a brilliant character as well, with a great background and wishes of her own, but she is set up to be a damsel for Erlan to rescue. This last is mitigated by the fact that Lilla gets to be more of her own person and use her power in her own right as the narrative progresses and Erlan starts to see her as a full individual and an equal. But still, I wish Lilla could have just started out in that position, that she didn’t have to be a damsel first and a person second.
Beyond the two women and Hakan/Erlan, there is a fourth character that is central to the story, Erlan’s travel companion, Kai. He seems to be a natural skald, able to entrance people with his stories and to talk his way out of any pickle. I loved the bond that forms between Erlan and Kai, even if Erlan initially isn’t really that happy about Kai’s attaching himself to him. What is interesting is that there seems to be such a disparity in their ages—they are actually closer in age than it would seem from their interactions. Erlan seems to be far more mature than Kai and considered to be his senior by Kai, but in fact they are about two years apart. Still, their friendship was wonderful to read about and I can’t wait to see whether it develops into something on a more equal level instead of superior-servant that it is for much of this book.
A Mighty Dawn is Theodore Brun’s debut and it is a strong first outing for the author. I really enjoyed this book very much, even if I had some problems with it. I can’t wait to discover what happens next in Erlan’s journey and how things develop at the court of King Sviggar, where we leave him at the end of the book in a scene that left me with my jaw dropped. Brun is certainly an author to keep an eye on if you enjoy historical fiction and for those who enjoy epic fantasy. I recommend checking out A Mighty Dawn if you love your vikings, historical fiction and/or epic fantasy!
This book was provided for review by the publisher.