Norway, AD 958. The Northern realm is once again at war. The exiled sons of Erik Bloodaxe have returned with the help of the Danes and have slain King Hakon. They now come for Hakon’s heir, Jarl Trygvi.
Trygvi’s wife, Astrid, and young son, Olaf, flee their home with the aid of their household warriors. Pursued by the Bloodaxe brood, the family escapes east, through the dark, forested land of the Swedes and across the treacherous East Sea. But the gods are fickle and the group is torn apart, leaving them to fend for themselves in Forged by Iron, a must-read for all who enjoy action-packed historical fiction.
Olaf Trygvasson was one of those colorful Viking kings whose life was almost too elaborate to be believed. But I never knew his early story, so this book was a real treat for me. Told from the point of view of Torgil, Olaf’s boyhood companion and protector—to an extent—we see a youth who was almost a dreamer, naughty, disobedient, and willful. Torgil didn’t like him very much and often found himself wanting to thrash him—in fact, he did once, before he learned to control his temper. We see no indication of a future king in this boy prince. From the very beginning they were beset by misfortune, as King Trygvi is betrayed by a trusted Jarl, and his wife Astrid and son Olaf are on the run, under the protection of Torgil’s father, along with Torgil and two female servants. Things go from bad to worse and they find themselves captured and sent into slavery, when Torgil’s father is killed:
My father did not hesitate. He swung the axe over his head, meaning to cleave the Estlander’s skull in two, but the Norns and their tapestry of fate intervened. Two arrows slammed into my father’s back, staggering him. Yelling his fury, he righted the blade and brought it down, but the Estlander sidestepped the awkward blow, bringing his own hand axe up and into my father’s temple.
Not an auspicious start! But you get a taste of the vivid action scenes from the nimble pen of the author. We don’t get full-fledged battles in this book, but we witness many bloody altercations. As a thrall, Olaf seems to take each day as it comes, though several years pass before he gets lucky and is purchased by a relative who recognized him at the yearly market. Poor Torgil and party are left behind and need to plot their own way to freedom. And plot they do! Ultimately Torgil’s path meets up with Olaf once again and they are ready to take the next step forward toward Olaf’s destiny.
“I cannot explain it, but the Norns have great things planned for me. They always have. My father used to tell me such things when I was little, but it is only now that I understand his words and feel that calling in my bones. And here.” He patted his chest. “It is as if the Norns have woven a better path for my life.” Still a pagan, Olaf doesn’t foresee his future as a Christian. How does he get there? I predict many adventures ahead!