by MJ Burr
There is something to be said for historical fiction as a genre. I avoided it for many years until finally being introduced to it properly. History is a passion, as is reading, and the two coming together to form a well-researched story is something I lose myself in.
The Landwaster does just that.
The story has the depth that only passion can bring and, from cover to cover, it is clear that Burr has a dedication to history that many authors don’t quite understand. History is messy. It is a long road, rough and bloody, and The Landwaster is no different.
First, we are introduced to the main characters as they assault the convent of Les Trois Etoiles. Assault is the only way it can be described. A bloody, savage assault on the senses, which has a visceral effect on the reader. There is no clean, light Knights of the Round Table view of history here. Burr has kept away from making the mistake many historical fiction writers make by adding a clean sheen to history, and I commend him for this. Rape, murder, blood, the Vikings did it all, and so too do the characters in The Landwaster as they satisfy every urge in the first chapter.
As the book continues, the attention to history is constant, as the characters travel from Norway, to Constantinople, to Sicily, to London, each new location dragging me further into the complex world of Harald Hardraada.
However, as much as I enjoyed being there, I felt that the format of the book did little to keep the reader enthralled for too long. I don’t know if it was decision made by Burr to allow the reader a reprieve from the heavy world but having The Chronicles after every passage really tore me from the immersion. I am fully aware that this, and subsequent instalments are The Scraeling, telling us what happened from his own viewpoint, a function I actually really enjoy, but the simple act of labelling The Chronicle so frequently began to get repetitive, and as result, kept me from truly losing myself in the story, as I knew there was a break coming up. Even omitting The Chronicle would do much to keep the immersion, as it would have a more natural flow.The Italics work perfectly well on their own, so the labels seem somewhat superfluous and break up the rich tapestry of the 11th century.
And it is rich. Burr’s use of description throughout does, at times, seem to be a bit heavy handed but for the most part, he paints a very clear picture of the tyrant’s conquest.
This book does not paint a pretty picture of the 30 years in which Harald Hardraada, who acted with nothing but avarice during his conquest in the 11th century, but will leave the reader in awe of his accomplishments, as well as admiration of The Scraeling’s cunning as The Landwaster carves a bloody path to satisfy his own desires at the cost of any who made the misfortune of getting in his way.
Author: MJ Burr
Publisher: Cliowrite Ltd; 36 Wairau Road; Oakura; Taranaki 4314
RRP: US$4.34 Amazon Kindle; $31.29 The Book Depository paperback
Available: paper as above or $25 from author, firstname.lastname@example.org