I picked up this book because I am a fan of Thorfinn Sigurdarson, Earl of Orkney. Although he actually plays a secondary part in this story, I enjoyed the lively plot around the reported supernatural reappearance of the dead Rognvald, traitor who was killed by Thorfinn at the beginning. Our protagonist Ketil, having quietly returned to Orkney after a long and unexplained disappearance, keeps finding himself surrounded by murders—too many to be coincidental. He nearly becomes a corpse, himself, and received so many wounds that a lesser man would have been happy to remain bedridden as the mystery played itself out. Not our Ketil! He’s in the thick of things, trying to unravel the conspiracy that seems to involve too many suspicious characters with too many motives:
“What if someone else was killed while Ketil was away? Whoever killed Snorri was no doubt still here: they wouldn’t have gone trailing off to Kirkuvagr just because Ketil had gone there. It might be just as dangerous here as it would be asking questions about Rognvald’s ghost in Kirkuvagr. Had Snorri really been killed because he was going to tell Ketil something?
Well: it could not have been Hrolf, not with three broken ribs. It could have been Bjarni, or Afi, or several other large men well able to haul Snorri over the wall into the pig sty. It was unlikely to have been Einar, but he could have ordered someone to do it. Was it someone who knew more about Rognvald’s ghost, or someone who knew more about Herleif’s death?”
As you can see, things got very complicated. I admit I had a hard time following the thread on occasion. Part of the problem for me was too many characters whose name started with an H. We had Herleif, Helga, Hrolf, and Hlifolf. Because the names are unfamiliar, it was easy to mix them up. But, having gone along for the ride, I didn’t mind the occasional bump. I got a good feeling for everyday life on cold and unforgiving Orkney. There was a hint of possible romance between Ketil and his old childhood friend Sigrid, who was the only person he truly trusted. Will that come to fruition in book two? I certainly hope so!