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Sword Song    by Rosemary Sutcliffe order for
Sword Song
by Rosemary Sutcliffe
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Over the years, I've read and enjoyed most of Rosemary Sutcliffe's impressive body of work in historical fiction, so was delighted to discover a new book. Sword Song was published posthumously (the author died in 1992, when she was working on a second draft of the story), and deals with Viking Britain.

The protagonist is 16-year-old Bjarni Sigurdson, who is exiled for five years from the Viking settlement of Rafnglas for killing a priest who kicked his dog (this attachment to canines continues through the story, often driving the plot). The Chief sends Bjarni off with a sword, and he leaves on the morning tide with Heriolf the Merchant. In Dublin, Bjarni is rejected and robbed, but he takes a stray black dog, Hugin, out of the settlement and travels on with the merchant ship to its next stop, where he sells his sword to Onund Treefoot.

Summers of sea-faring adventure are interrupted by quiet winters in a Viking settlement. Bjarni seems to have found his place, until a jealous, spiteful girl changes his life's course again by threatening Hugin. Bjarni must take his sword-service elsewhere, and this time offers it to Thorstein the Red and his wise mother, the Lady Aud in Mull. There he befriends a thrall, Erp Mac Meldin, once a prince of Argyll. Bjarni travels with the Lady Aud to Iona, where he meets the monks, and accepts the 'prime-signing' of the White Christ.

Bjarni's adventures continue, giving an overview of the Norse settlements of the period, and of the conflicts and alliances amongst them, and with the native tribes. Eventually, after a shipwreck, Bjarni encounters a young Welsh woman named Angharad, who is endangered by locals' fears that she might be a witch. He finally returns to Rafnglas with Angharad, his new lady's horse, a fine sword, and of course Hugin. Sword Song is an enjoyable coming of age story set in Viking Britain.

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