Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
From the first sentence, ‘When a witch gives you a True Name, it sticks,’ Jackie French hooks readers into this tale of the Scottish Wolfhound, Riki Snarfari, which means Mighty Rover, and his rescuer Hekja. The bond between Riki Snarfari – or Snarf ,as he is more commonly known – and Hekja intensifies after the Viking attack on the village that results in them both being captured. Taken away from her own land, Hekja becomes a thrall or slave, to Freydis Eriksdottir, the feisty daughter of Eric the Red. Snarf emerges as a hero as he smells the icebergs and warns Freydis and her crew, guiding the Viking ship safely through the icebergs.
Taken to the inaptly named ‘Greenland’. Hekja’s first impression is that it is ‘a land of snow.’ As a thrall, Hekja finds she has no rights but can be sold or traded at will by her owner. Life becomes a struggle, made bearable only by the presence of the faithful Snarf.
They Came on Viking Ships confronts readers, with the Viking princess, Freydis, determined to overthrow the idea that only men journey and discover new lands while women stay home. She yearns to one day lead her own expedition.
And she does – to Vinland. But the treachery of Finnbogi, one of her compatriots causes the previously peaceful Skraelings, who already inhabit Vinland, to attack them.
The pregnant Freydis and her thrall stand together and lead the men against the Skraelings.
This historical novel presents an unsentimental view of the society and life in Viking times that will involve readers from the opening line to the last page.
They Came on Viking Ships by Jackie French
HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005 ISBN 0 207 20011 4 $15.95 Pb