Sword Song

Rosemary Sutcliff, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $18 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-37363-4
For all the rough edges in Sutcliff's posthumously published novel, it nonetheless brings far-off times, peoples and places vividly to life. As the story opens, 16-year-old Bjarni Sigurdson is banished for five years from Rafnglas (for killing a man who kicked his dog), a Viking settlement in the Lake Country of present-day England. Bjarni becomes a mercenary swordsman, first shipping out to Dublin with a merchant, then attaching himself to various historical Viking leaders as they raid, fight and carouse (the Norsemen drank a lot of ale) through the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and northern Scotland. Shipwrecked in Wales, he is rescued by and in turn rescues the healer Angharad, whom he ultimately brings home to Rafnglas as his bride. A foreword notes that Sutcliff always wrote her books in three drafts, and that she was midway through the second for this novel when she died in 1992. Perhaps that explains why this third-person retelling of Norse Atlantic sagas at times seems curiously detached and episodic, in marked contrast to the smoothly paced first-person narrative of The Shining Company, published two years before her death. Studded with dashes and ambiguous pronouns, the sentences are often Jamesian in length and a glossary is sorely lacking (though there is a nicely detailed map). This may be best suited for more mature readers, but adolescents, especially boys, will likely identify with the protagonist, whose hot temper is his worst enemy, and fans of Viking lore will not be disappointed. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 10/01/1998
Genre: Children's
Prebound-Glued - 271 pages - 978-1-4177-7581-1
Paperback - 271 pages - 978-0-374-46984-9
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