Thursday 24 January 2019

Book Review — Viking Warlord: A Saga of Thorkell the Great, by David K. Mullaly #Vikings #HistoricalFiction

Viking Warlord: 
A Saga of Thorkell the Great
By David K. Mullaly

Viking History Comes Alive…

Thorkell inn ha′vi is a rarity during the late Viking Period. He is an old Dane who has survived many raids and two invasions, and he has lived to tell about battlefield triumphs, family dishonor, the defiance of a king, personal banishment, and being named regent of a country--twice. His only remaining desire is for his name and deeds to live on in the sagas of the Norse people, so he will share his story with his family and a famous story-teller. Then he wants to die with a sword in his hand.

This is an historical novel that reflects everything that we actually know about the man, an extraordinary individual who ultimately has to deal with aging and his own mortality. He’s always been able to plan and anticipate the future, but he may come to understand that accepting the unexpected is the biggest challenge.

Although fantasy can provide a guilty pleasure, there are no dragons or trolls or magic in this story, no super-heroes. There are real Vikings, and a clear vision of what life was like for ambitious men and women in the Norse culture.

“Unfolding in front of me is a familiar scene: a battlefield teaming with furious and desperate men…”

The dead haunt Thorkell inn ha′vi’s dreams. He sees his enemies, his friends, and his family. However, in the cold light of day, they are lost to him, for they have travelled on, either to the Christian Paradise or Oden’s great hall in Valhalla. The battles they faced, the loves they lost will be forgotten as time marches forever forward, never once looking back.

Cnut once demonstrated that no man could stop the tide. The same can be said for the seasons. Faced with his mortality, Thorkell fears, more than anything, that his story will be forgotten and that, he will not allow. So Thorkell sends for the gifted story-teller from Isaland, Eyolf Dadaskald. Thorkell gathers his family in his great hall and begins his tale at the beginning — for everyone knows that is where all good stories should start.

Viking Warlord: A Saga of Thorkell the Great, by David K. Mullaly is the masterful retelling of the life of Thorkell inn ha′vi.

What a compelling story this is. It had me gripped from the opening sentence and kept me enthralled until the very last word. I have read many books set in and around the time of King Cnut, but occasionally I stumble upon a book that takes my breath away. Viking Warlord: A Saga of Thorkell the Great, is such a book. Words cannot express how great this book was although I shall do my best to try! Never have I felt such a strong connection to a historical character portrayed in fiction, especially one that I knew little about. The portrayal of Thorkell inn ha′vi is inspired. Here is a man who is not only a great warrior, but one filled with principles and an intelligent wit that looked outside of the box for victory. Mullaly has portrayed Thorkell as a compassionate man, who tries to avoid unnecessary death whenever possible — if he can get the English to pay him and his men to leave them alone then so much the better. Thorkell is not a mindless barbarian. He is honourable when others around him lose their heads. He pillages, but he has principles. I really cannot praise Mullaly enough for this monumental work of scholarship. His eye for human fragility and detail has to be commended. There is no doubt that this book is an enthralling epic and the protagonists are larger than life.

I thought Mullaly’s portrayal of Cnut was fabulous. We meet Cnut in this story when he is just a boy. He is young and impressionable, but there is a quiet strength about him that seems to flourish under Thorkell’s care. Cnut, the man, is a different story altogether as he learns the skills needed to appease a people who have been threatened to comply with his demands but secretly oppose him. His treatment of Thorkell seemed to depend on the mood of the country. No one was safe, not even the most trusted of advisors, if Cnut could see a political gain by replacing them by men more favoured by his subjects. For anyone interested in the early years of Cnut’s life then this book is a must-read. 

I adored the portrayal of Eyolf Dadaskald — the famous story-teller. Thorkell is relying on him to keep his story alive, but Eyolf is, like Thorkell, an old man. I found Eyolf rather endearing, especially when he kept falling asleep while Thorkell is recounting the story of his life! Old age catches up with even the best of them.

Mullaly approaches the history of this time with scrupulous care, and it is backed up by confident research. There is a realism throughout this story which is almost tangible. The death of Archbishop Aelfheah was particularly chilling, as was Thorkell’s refusal to fight under the man who killed his father, which made for a compelling subplot. Mullaly is one of those authors who has an intuitive understanding of what makes history worth reading. Likewise, the narrative has a fast-pace and it is incredibly persuasive. This book has an energy about it that threatens to mesmerise.

There is much in this book to recommend, and if you are a fan of Michael Hirst’s Vikings series, then Viking Warlord: A Saga of Thorkell the Great is one you should definitely have on your to-read list. This is story-telling at its very best. I wish I had written it.

I Highly Recommend.

Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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David K. Mullaly

After teaching English and creative writing for a few decades at both the high school and the college levels, I imagined writing something substantial, but I had no clue for a subject. My involvement in buying and selling Viking artifacts, and doing the historical and archaeological research needed to be knowledgeable about them, certainly expanded my horizons. However, it wasn't until I stumbled on the figure of Eadric of Mercia that I found a subject I believed I could present in a genuinely different and hopefully interesting way. 

As a side note, while I was learning about the Vikings, I came to the conclusion that I likely have some Norse blood in me. I'm Irish on both sides of my family, going way back, but I have blond hair, blue eyes, a red beard, and skin that just doesn't like the sun--which doesn't sound at all like Celtic physiology. In fact, the Vikings, primarily from Norway, invaded and in some cases settled in Ireland, especially along the east coast.

So, I tell myself that I am part Viking, but I have absolutely no interest in getting a DNA test to confirm or refute my theory. I like the idea of having some Viking ancestry, and I'll leave it at that. Science has its place, but so does a good story.

Connect with David: GoodreadsAmazon Author Page


  1. Congratulations on your award, David!

  2. Wow, just wow. Having looked for Viking (Norse) primary information turned up scant results. An issue with taxation in the 1300s and several accounts of travellers who visited, but with an either indecipherable language that is dead or forgotten, we have to piece together the oral tradition with evidence that we find and have the two of those things match up with the accounts of others.
    As a teacher, I remind students that we cannot view history through our lens today. Here in America, it isn't mentioned. We pass harsh judgments on the Vikings, the Feudal World, Columbus and others for example. I tell my students to write their essays in that moment. They cannot have datapoints that were only learned later. It is novels like these that put you, the reader, IN the moment. Only when we get there, the best we can imagine, are we able to understand the Viking heart and mind.
    Normally I take Historical Novels with a grain of salt. But David Mullaly never deviates too much from the path of truth. What a good Historical Novel does - is it puts you inside of people and events. When we read history today, we see the results of what actually happened. We are supposed to question how we got here. Why were some choices made and others not? What outside factors did we need to address at the time? Who / What threatened it from happening?

    Pick this book up and some of these questions suddenly bring about reasonable answers. A good history book is really designed to inspire more questions - and in this one - it leaves you in want of the second book behind it. Really great book, and it is in my ''Book of the Must-Read'' shelf, one in which I draw many sources for my own work. Great Book, ***** 5 Stars.

  3. Congratulations. I shall have to check out Viking Warlord, it sounds amazing.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx