________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006

cover

Viking Terror.

Tom Henighan.
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk Books/Dundurn Press, 2006.
232 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 1-55002-605-4.

Subject Headings:
Vikings-Greenland-Juvenile friction.
Eric, the Red, fl. 985–Juvenile fiction.
Vikings-Social life and customs-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*1/2 /4

excerpt:

For a few seconds there was the deepest of deep silences, as if all the men in the room had been rendered incapable of speech or even breath. Then came a snigger from someone, a few cascading laughs, and finally a torrent of raucous laughter from all the assembled Vikings. Only Erik, sitting high on his dais chair, did not even smile.

“Silence!” he bellowed, raising one brawny arm. “It's my own grandson you're making fun of!” He cast Rigg a devastating glance of scorn and disapproval and added, “Not that he doesn't deserve it.”

Ari bent toward Rigg and whispered, “Now you've done it! We'll be sent into exile for sure.”

“I thought you wanted to go to Dublin,” Rigg joked, but he was blushing for shame, wondering how he could ever face his father after this humiliation.

“Silence!” Erik bellowed, “When my grandson seems to brag about being captured by a Skraeling girl, I can hardly believe my ears. I thought we were Vikings in this family.”

 
It often happens that we fall victim to our own high expectations—not expectations of our own achievements, necessarily, but high expectations of what others might do. Many is the time that I have eagerly entered a movie theatre in excited anticipation of seeing a wonderful movie, only to trudge out of the theatre two hours later disappointed that the movie did not live up to its hype. So it can also happen with books, and such was my experience with Tom Henighan's new novel, Viking Terror. The second book in what is intended to be a four-part Viking series, Viking Terror failed to live up to my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed the first instalment in the series, the 2001 Viking Quest, but the successor is a disappointment.

     In Viking Terror, the fictional character of Rigg Leifsson, whom Henighan has cast as the son of Leif Eriksson and the grandson of the legendary Erik the Red, is now a 17-year-old. Having left what would later become the Canadian Maritimes at the end of the first novel, Rigg is now in Greenland. Rigg and his friend, Ari, spend much of the novel in conflict with Erik the Red, the ruler of the Greenland Viking colony.

     One glance at Viking Terror reveals that Henighan has tried a different tack with the series' second book. At 232 pages, the book is more than double the length of its predecessor. As a consequence, Viking Terror seems often to aimlessly drift along while its succinct predecessor got quickly to the point. I am not convinced that a lot of young adult readers will stick with an historical fiction book that meanders along, seemingly never getting out of low gear. Furthermore, because historical fiction is such a hard sell to young adult readers anyway, this book immediately has a limited audience. I believe that audience will largely be limited to those early teenagers with an interest in the Vikings of high drama, dangerous exploration, warfare and, I suspect, more than just a little old-fashioned pillaging. Despite the title, Viking Terror focuses more fully on Viking mythology and the spreading influence of the introduction of Christianity among the people, not to mention a deep exploration of the interpersonal relationships between the various characters—historically-based and fictional—within the novel. In the publisher's promotional material and on the back cover blurb, the author is described as “an expert on Viking lore and Norse mythology.” Indeed, Henighan has published on Vikings for adult readers too. Not for a moment do I doubt Henighan's expertise in this area; however, I think that he misses the mark with this book, failing to focus on the aspects of Viking history most likely to be of interest to younger readers.

     I must also concede to getting lost on more than one occasion, trying to keep all of the novel's characters straight. It seems evident that Henighan or his publishers suspected the number of characters might pose a problem for readers. As such, included at the beginning of the book is a list of characters that boasts the names and a brief description of nineteen people. The list then concludes with the statement that various others also appear in the novel and, by way of illustration, proceeds then to name (but not describe) a further twelve additional characters. Little wonder that I experienced some difficulty keeping everyone straight. While the list of characters was helpful to me (in that I constantly referred back to it) the necessity for it is suggestive of a problem.

     Having so enjoyed Viking Quest, I retain my optimism for the series. I am more than just a little interested to see what the third book brings. This second instalment, however, is not one that I recommend. It is a slow, confusing, and only rarely interesting read.


Not recommended.

Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education and children's literature classes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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