Council – Snorri Kristjánsson

Helga Finnsdottir, healer, herbalist, welcome in some places she has visited and equally unwanted in others, the thorn in the side of her adopted family, in particular her estranged stepsister Jorunn who tried to kill her at their last meeting, finally hopes she has found a life where she can settle down and go about her business among people who value her presence and skills.

Any hopes that life might endure are curtailed by two events, the discovery by the river of a dying boy, and a summons to the court of King Eirik in Uppsala; upon arrival Helga arranges to meet with the king, to express her misgivings about the death, suspecting the boy had in fact been murdered, but the council has other more pressing concerns.

All the tribes have been gathered by Eirik; there will be trade, there will be wrestling, there will be drinking, but there will also be talk of allegiances and war, for in Denmark it is rumoured that King Harald is gathering his forces to invade Sweden, and Eirik must band his fractious people into an army who can defend their lands.

Within the council there are voices of dissent, but beyond that there may be other interests at work more devious, for among those gathered is Jorunn, demanding reparation from Eirik when one of her men dies in an apparent accident while a guest of the king and so under his protection, a man who had been seeking information on the whereabouts of his missing son…

The second volume of Snorri Kristjánsson’s Helga Finnsdottir Mysteries following 2018’s Kin, the author was born in Iceland before moving to Norway where he spent his early teens, so like his earlier Valhalla Saga the Viking influence should continue to be strong in Council.

Despite this, Kristjánsson’s language and situations are conventional, with little to tie the novel to a time or place or evoke any strong sense within the reader, a generic historic fantasy novel of murder and betrayal whose events and characters could easily be transplanted to any number of different settings without significant changes.

Every encounter over a campfire, in the halls of the king or in the forests accompanied by an increasingly infuriating “well met,” Helga spends more time getting distracted by her recently acquired boyfriend Freysteinn of the long blond hair and close-cropped beard than she does engaged in examining the evidence held in her Sherlock Holmes-styled mind palace.

It is apparent that Kristjánsson is less a writer crafting a strong Norse character as a man writing his fantasy of a woman overwhelmed by “that delicious man-smell of him mixed with sweat and horse and sun…warm skin and hard muscle beneath… feeling the weight and admiring the size and power of him,” and it is Helga who is diminished by the interaction, further undermining the already slight narrative.

Council is available now from Jo Fletcher Books



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