Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ian Desabrais' Norse Adventure

During my brief talk at my book launch last Monday, I mentioned two former participants in my "Start a Novel" course who went on to complete their novels and publish them electronically. One of these is Ian Desabrais, the author of a Norse adventure story entitled Elnore. Recently I reviewed this novel, and below is a copy of what I said about it.


In Elnore: I Will Give You a Good Death, Ian Desabrais takes us back in time to a world which had influenced the one in which we live now. This dramatic historical novel opens by showing us the central character, a Norse smith, warrior and father.

Elnore has left a farm to settle in a community somewhere on the Scandinavian peninsula to "grow old with his wife" and to raise their children. When raiders attack the village, he leads his neighbours into hand-to-hand combat and repulses the enemy, saving many lives, including that of the village chieftain. When villagers are disposing of the dead and find the corpse of young Loklar Lothsson, they are seized with fear. Loklar's father, the powerful warrior chieftain, Loth, will seek revenge.

"Burn this place!" the village chieftain orders. "We leave here now." As the community packs up and travels to the walled settlement of Bulvi, Elnore, recovering from his battle wounds, sets out with his elkhound in pursuit of Loth. His eldest son, the skilled archer Torim, disobeys him by leaving the community en route, and joining him on a winter trek through rough, snow-covered terrain, where they encounter enemy scouts.

Ian Desabrais' extensive knowledge of Norse history never interferes with the pace of the story, but comes through, subtly, in every paragraph. During a battle scene, for instance, we read of one warrior's "circular shield with iron boss in the centre and decorated with a fierce dragon." References to iron mail shirts, too, establish that we are in the Iron Age. Elnore refers to the most brutal of the enemy warriors as "berserkers" and indeed, "berserk" is one of the words that the Norse contributed to the English language. Elnore goes to heal his wounds at a hot spring bath (a sauna) where a woman herbalist/healer uses her skills to treat him.

At the outset, our interest is captured by the action, and by details of a society that seems violent and foreign. Soon, however, the characters' humanity appeals to us. Far from being simple or "primitive", they are complicated human beings, as we are. Elnore is a spiritual person who frequently prays to Thor and Odin. He grieves at the death of his faithful dog, with "happy, loving eyes", who dies fighting one of Loth's scouts. We share his fatherly anguish when he hears Torim's screams during torture, and when he begs the Valkyries to spare his son, who has not yet lived his life. Father and son are not rivals in this novel, but buddies - mentor and student.

Whether arranging for the protection of his younger children, meeting the dark elf, Raal, in the forset, or freeing the watch birds from their cages as he creeps up on the enemy, Elnore evokes the reader's admiration. I was glad to read the question posed to Elnore near the conclusion: "Where are you taking us now?" This query hints of a second novel about Elnore. I look forward to another well-written fascinating adventure which will quietly enrich our knowledge as it entertains us.

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