The Half-Drowned King
by Linnea Hartsuyker
For Linnea Hartsuyker’s impressive debut novel The Half-Drowned King (new from Harper with a stunning cover design by Milan Bozic) certain literary comparisons are going to be inevitable, or at least inevitable when the book is considered by long-in-the-tooth reviewers who’ll take one rheumy look at her book’s setting – ninth-century Norway – and immediately flash back to the dewy days of their reviewing prime and the appearance of Frans Bengtsson’s epic novel about tenth-century Vikings, The Long Ships, a book that follows the rollicking adventures of its sword-wielding hero Orm from roughly 980 to roughly 1010 and was published in 1955 in an English-language translation by Michael Meyer (and, delightfully, just recently given a natty paperback reprint by the folks at the New York Review of Books Classics line, so it could reach a whole new generation of Upper East Side book reviewers). Much like Hartsuyker, Bengtsson unabashedly if a trifle unwisely admitted to owing a great creative debt to Snorri Sturluson, the 12th-century Icelandic historian who in the course of his writing career generated so much bullhooey that the whole of Scandinavia has been fertilized with it ever since. Snorri’s book Heimskringla tells the stories of the old Norse kings, interweaves all its high and low deeds with charged drama and supernatural shadings, and exerts a hypnotic spell as powerful as that of any hoard-guarding dragon.