Snorri Kristjansson – Kin

Everyone loves a family reunion.

He can deny it all he likes, but everyone knows Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson brought home a great chest of gold when he retired from the longboats and settled down with Hildigunnur in a remote valley. Now, in the summer of 970, adopted daughter Helga is awaiting the arrival of her unknown siblings: dark, dangerous Karl, lithe, clever Jorunn, gentle Aslak, henpecked by his shrewish wife, and the giant Bjorn, made bitter by Volund, his idiot son.

And they’re coming with darkness in their hearts.

The siblings gather, bad blood simmers and old feuds resurface as Unnthor’s heirs make their moves on the old man’s treasure – until one morning Helga is awakened by screams. Blood has been shed: kin has been slain.

No one confesses, but all the clues point to one person – who cannot possibly be the murderer, at least in Helga’s eyes. But if she’s going to save the innocent from the axe and prevent more bloodshed, she’s got to solve the mystery – fast . . .

Lies. Manipulation. Murder. There’s nothing quite like family . . .

Kin is the latest book by the wonderful Snorri Kristjansson. I adored his first two novels, Swords of Good Men and Blood Will Follow. So much so, that I haven’t finished the first series yet, since I don’t want to say goodbye to Ulfar and Audun, the protagonists of the Valhalla trilogy. I really do love Snorri and his writing though, so when Kin arrived I squealed. Because Viking crime? I became the embodiment of this gif:

My favourite thing about Kin — beyond the fact of Vikings —is how the story centres the women. Certainly, there are a lot of men, Unnthor’s farm is clearly part of a patriarchal system, but the most interesting parts go to the women and they are the most powerful characters. Because while the farm is Unnthor’s and he rules it with an iron fist, Unnthor is ruled by his wife Hildigunnur. It is she who gentles him when he lashes out in anger or affront and it is she who shapes his decisions. Hildigunnur is the heart of the hall and the linchpin of the family. Within this close-knit tribe she is closest to her daughter Jorunn and foster daughter Helga. The daughters in law Agla, Thyri, and Runa, and even granddaughter Gytha do not belong to the inner circle though all play a role in the plot. I loved that each of these women had their own strengths and weaknesses and a distinct way of surviving in society while female. Hildigunnur as the matriarch, Agla through ambitious power-grabbing, Thyri through being a demure housewife, Runa’s shrewish nagging, Jorunn by being brash, bold and always looking out for herself, while Helga tries to blend into the background as much as she can, which also allows her to better observe her surroundings.

Those powers of observation are important too, as it is Helga who conducts the investigation into the murder in the name of her foster mother. The murder in question is a semi-locked room mystery, as while it wasn’t exactly on a remote island or in a snowed-in train, the farm is sufficiently remote that there aren’t really viable suspects outside of the farm. I liked that the investigation was both a combination of actually examining the body and the crime scene and a psychological study of the possible culprits and their motives. Everyone has an agenda and most of them are just quite unpleasant human beings. Helga uses not just her wits and investigatory skills, she also uses a good dose of guile to discover the truth and I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the story.

Kin is also a fascinating dissection of family bonds and how sibling rivalry can shape lives and deaths. The dynamics between Karl, Bjorn, Aslak, Jorunn, and their respective spouses were well-drawn and the needling and the underlying resentments were quite convincing. Jorunn is resentful of her brothers because she always had to prove to her father that she was just as good even if she was a girl. A feeling that is timeless and echoes through the ages. But the resentment between the brothers over perceived favouritism and jealousy of the other’s success is just as keen. Kristjansson’s narrative illustrates how love and loyalty can be twisted into weapons that cut even more sharply than anger and hate.

Kin is a Viking tale, but these aren’t the vikings we usually see. These are domestic vikings, not vikings out raiding or off to battle, but seen in an intimate family situation. It is a smaller setting, but a rich one and Kristjansson reels you into the compound and keeps you there to see the story through to the end. I loved Kin and the ending just made my head spin with its cleverness and impact. I cannot wait to see Viking crime become a widely adopted thing and, more importantly, I can’t wait to read even more of Helga Finnsdottir’s adventures. If you’ve never encountered Snorri Kristjansson’s writing before, Kin is the perfect way to start!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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