Her Viking Warrior
Her Viking Warrior is an interesting blend of old school romance ideals (home and hearth and the power of alpha manhood are celebrated) and new school ones (so is the power of female ingenuity, toughness and fitness for leadership in battle). The book does a fairly good job balancing these two different points of view and wrapping them in a romance that makes sense for its ancient era, yet I had some trouble believing in its romance and heroine.
Heavy lies responsibility upon the shoulders of mercenary Bjorn, who is involved in a war between his jarl-for-hire and the Breton Queen. He and his brothers are told they must ask the Gods for direction as to their ultimate purpose, but Bjorn is more concerned with getting paid and moving on to the next battle.
Meeting Ilsa, Daughter of Odell, child of a merchant whom he met years before, Bjorn is startled to notice she’s grown into a stunning woman. He’s also surprised when she reveals she’s quested to find him, hoping he’ll help her save Vellefold, the last place to which Bjorn wants to return. But Ilsa needs help. She needs men to teach her people how to fight after Vellefold was invaded two times in a row by their neighbors, taking the lives of their best soldiers in the fight.
Ilsa would rather be alone with her scholarly pursuits, but since her people need help she’s willing to do anything to bring about their self-reliance. She even offers Bjorn the Jarldom, but he’s not interested. But ultimately, money wins out. When they land in Vellefold, however, secret after secret emerges about Ilsa’s true motives – and problem after problem emerges as Bjorn tries to get the ragtag group of survivors whipped into shape with the help of his brotherhood of Forgotten Sons. Is the stunning warrior he’s coming to respect, lust for and love all that Bjorn thinks she is – or is there some secret hiding behind those bright eyes?
Her Viking Warrior works amazingly well whenever its stunning action sequences or Bjorn’s angst about his abandonment stand at center stage. You can see the spilling blood and smell the sweat as you read a too-infrequent battle scene.
The character work, though, sometimes feels a bit slapdash. Bjorn is straightforwardly grumpy and resentful; a warrior who believes in hand-to-hand combat, and any and all sorts of breasts; a misogynist who doesn’t believe in female leadership, his opinion tainted by his quasi-stepmother’s behavior after his birth mother’s death. Naturally, Ilsa wakes him up to the importance of the existence of capable and powerful women as he falls in love with her. To claim his future, he must swallow down the bitterness of the past – and it takes him the length of the book to do so.
Ilsa is a woman of multilayered mystery, and her complexity was something I enjoyed. But she’s also the biggest problem with the novel. Rushing about trying to abolish thralldom, trained – as are all female warriors in every single film set pre-1700s – in the ways of the bow and arrow versus hand to hand combat, part nursemaid, part warrior, she feels rather like an ‘insert-feminist-character-traits-here’ placard in her behavior versus someone who’s fully rounded out with genuine flaws and personality. Note: it’s completely believable that such a warrior woman might have existed in her time period. But that doesn’t automatically make her a full-blooded character. Her abusive marriage has shaped her and her goals are understandable, but something in the execution gets lost and I never really got a feel for her as a person
So, too, does the central relationship lack something – a sense of mutual tenderness or vulnerability when she and Bjorn are alone together. They’re Vikings, true, but for the most part, the current that runs between them is sexual rather than one of romantic attachment.
Indeed, most of the book’s development surrounds Bjorn’s reacceptance into his family. Some of its better parts feature Bjorn wrestling with his anger at the father and home town that abandoned him. We are told – not shown – about the great sacrifices his father has made in remorse for the loss of his child, as Bjorn ascends the throne, Simba-like, after his prodigal separation from the family.
Conkle’s writing is decent, but sometimes bogged down with flat stretches or bits of unnecessary detail. We’re told of a minor character: “she was knowing and proud, with a small straight nose.” Why do I need to know what this woman’s nose looks like? It doesn’t come up again.
Her Viking Warrior mainly works as a family story, with a romance that slips into the background under the heavier weight of its plot. But when the rest of the plot works well, it’s hard to avoid giving it a qualified recommendation.