KING OF THE NORTH
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The first two novels Harry Turtledove published, Wereblood and Werenight, way back in the 1970's, made up a two volume series. Although they contained some interesting ideas, they were not much more than run of the mill fantasies and quickly faded from memory. Certainly, Turtledove had far surpassed them when his next novels began to appear in the late 1980's. I was a little surprised, therefore, when Baen announced they were re-issuing this series in a single volume a couple years ago as Werenight. Of course, this was followed by a first sequel, Prince of the North, and now a second sequel King of the North. My understanding is that the next book in the series will be entitled Gerin the Fox. Based on this introduction, you might think that I am not a fan of this series, and I must admit that I wondered that Turtledove would choose to return to the Northlands after, like the Elabonian Empire, he had cut himself off from them for more than a decade. However, both sequels far surpass the original novel, both in scope and craft. Since this is a review of King of the North, I'll refer you to my older review of Prince of the North and get on with the novel at hand.
Ten more years have passed since Gerin the Fox proclaimed "Prince of the North" following his victory over the creatures from below Biton's temple. He has managed to maintain a steady control over his lands, fighting the occasional war with recalcitrant barons such as the Trokme, Adiatunnus, or his rival Aragis the Archer. In addition to his eldest son, Duren, now 14, Gerin has three children by his second wife, Selatre. Naturally, with things running so smoothly for the Fox, something must break his tranquility, otherwise, no novel.
Into every life, a little rain must fall, or in Gerin's case a little snow. As Gerin is preparing to go into battle against Adiatunnus, the Northlands are beset by the Gradi, barbarians who make their home North of the Trokmoi and based, even more than the Trokmoi, on the Norse raiders of our history. In addition to being fanatical warriors, just this side of berserkers, the Gradi have a strong belief in and reliance on their gods. The story of their invasion is as much the Gradi gods against the Elabonian, Sithonian and Trokme gods as it is about the Gradi against Gerin the Fox.
The resulting story, of Gerin's battles against the Gradi and his dealings with his own vassals, including Adiatunnus, are pretty straight-forward. However, one of Turtledove's strengths is his ability to portray a complicated society and he manages to flesh out the Northlands well. Early in the novel, word is brought to Fox Keep that Gerin's ex-father-in-law, Ricolf, has died suddenly. Although Gerin's son by Elise, Ricolf's daughter, should take the holding, none of Ricolf's vassals want to have any allegiance to Gerin and try to out-maneuver the Fox.
Having spoken of a strength, I would now look at two of the book's weaknesses. During the majority of the action, Turtledove fails to account for the activities of Gerin's staunchest foe, Aragis the Archer. Turtledove has hinted that Aragis is not being attacked by the Gradi, yet he does not seek to exploit the Fox's preoccupancy with the raiders. In addition, the book ends rather quickly. Not all of the storythreads are neatly tied-up, leaving plenty of room for the next book, but too many seem to have pat endings which could/should have been left open. Instead, Turtledove performs a quick summation of the problems. These, however, is not a fatal flaw, and Turtledove introduces enough twists and turns in the plot to satisfy.
My opinion of this series has risen steadily since I first read Wereblood and Werenight. The world of Elabon is just as elaborate and complex as the world of Videssos, and allows Turtledove leeway to write different types of stories. The magical systems and deities which exist in the two series are very different views by the same author, which is a nice touch.
In discussing another of his books, The Two Georges, written with Richard Dreyfuss, Turtledove commented that he knew the book was as much Dreyfuss's as his when the main character, Thomas Bushell, would not act as a typical Harry Turtledove character would act in a given situation. Moreso than perhaps any other Harry Turtledove character, Gerin the Fox represents that "typical" hero.
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