Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hammer And The Cross

This trilogy by Harry Harrison is an alternate history tale about a man that started off life no more than a slave but grew to become King of one of the greatest nations in history. The books are as follows:

The Hammer and The Cross begins the story of Shef, a young man who knows that his father is not his father, that the Church is the most powerful entity there is, and that his life is terrible. But he dreams of better things, being able to escape his situation and take his "sister" (they do not share a parent but were raised togehter) with him to marry. What he got instead was far greater. Instead he finds himself among the Viking enemy, first as a common soldier, but slowly he begins to rise through the ranks. Is it the help of one of the Viking gods, who may be his father? Or is the belief of this enough to make men simply follow him?

In One King's Way Shef's story continues once he has taken over a vast majority of the Viking army. He begins leading them across the seas and land to break down the hold that the sons of Ragnar have over the Viking people. And along the way he gathers Englishmen who are unhappy with the Church and the control it has over everyone. With this mixed band of men he slowly finds his way through obstacles, trying to find the truth about himself and the future of the people that hve clung to him.

The conclussion to the story of Shef, King and Emperor, recounts the last of the now One King Shef as he tries to continue his mission of bringing knowledge to everyone. When a messanger from another kingdom comes asking for help, it is the tale of a man that can fly that draws Shef to unknown lands. He travels a great distance in the pursuit of knowledge and finds far more than he bargained for. The man that had once helped Shef, the now King of the Holy Roman Empire, is now on a mission to find the one-eyed son of a Viking God and destroy him for the sake of all Christianity. But Shef is a hard man to capture and his legend is even harder to kill. And now most of the known world knows of him.

While these books were a fascinating read, I wish that I knew more about the actual history that inspired them so that I might have something to compare it with. That being said, I greatly enjoyed this series. The third book was maybe a little anti-climatic, other reviews have gone so far as to cal it unnecessary, but I believe that an ending to Shef's story was needed and thus provided in the last instalment, even though it may not have been as exciting as the first two. I have to admit that the idea of conflict among the gods, Viking and Christian, is what drew me to this series, and it was not what was delivered. Instead it is a fight between their people. That being said I think the side of the Christians was greatly ignored, but then we have plenty of stories about their guiding factors and the actions they took to promote their God. So I think this book was almost needed to balance out the scales. And I think it did a great job.

I liked the writing style and the characters were very real. Shef was not a hero that everyone would love all the time, he was a real man with a great many flaws that did the best job he could with the materials he was given. After all in only a few short years he went from a near slave to King of a very large nation. He did what he could.

I recomend these books to anyone looking in the fantasy section. While it does not claim that title, it has a great many things in common with other books of the genre. Also perhaps history buffs would benefit from reading this as it gives a perspective outside of the norm. If you do choose to read one or all of the books, let me know, I want to know what you think of them. I am the only one I know to have picked up these books, and even then it took me years to read them. But now I am very glad I did. I welcome your comments on them!

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