CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006
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.
Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education and children's literature classes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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