Last year, I read and loved the brand-new, Viking murder-mystery, Kin by new-to-me author, Snorri Kristjansson; so much so, when I got to the end I wanted more! Luckily for me, it was announced it was to be the first book in a series following Helga Finnsdottir. As soon as I could I snapped up a copy of the second book, Council and again patiently saved it for the perfect darker, cooler days of autumn to read it.
Set five years after the first book, Council sees Helga has now settled near King Eirik’s court in Uppsala, where she’s worked hard to become a well-regarded healer. But her quiet life is about to get a bit more exciting, when she is called to the grisly discovery of the body of an unknown boy near to the river. But with delegations from all over the country arriving for the King’s Council; rumours of an imminent attack and flaring tempers, the death is brushed off as an accident. Only Helga suspects murder, until a second body makes it clear that someone’s intent on breaking up this important council and that a traitor may walk among them…
We follow the majority of this fast, gripping and twisting story through the eyes of the ever watchful and insightful Helga. First as she witnesses and notes the arrival of each tribe’s delegations for the council; which includes a dangerous, unwanted face from Helga’s past. Then, having established herself as the resident healer, she is called upon to treat wounds and examine the bodies, which puts her in a prime position to seek clues and wheedle out information, with all the cunning traits she learnt from her wise adoptive mother, Hildigunnur and a wisdom that belies her years.
Yet this time Helga does make mistakes and mistakes that put her in grave danger. To be fair it is totally understandable as this second mystery is set in the larger, busier setting of Uppsala, which offers a much larger cast of players and suspects. Plus with the arrival of the delegations and the fear of attack, there is a loaded atmosphere of threat, where potential violence lurks at every wrong word or step. All of which piles the pressure on Helga. And with so many characters, all of whom have their own motivations, Helga is left not knowing who to trust and creates a general air of confusion.
Like the previous book, what took a very good murder-mystery to a whole new level was the fantastic Viking setting. Here there are no forensics, finger-printing or databases to aid Helga’s investigations. Instead it all has to be done with her careful observations; her medical and herbal knowledge; and, now and again, the god-like interference of visions. All of which is cleverly weaved together to make a believable trail of clues and deductions. I also enjoyed seeing how this mystery lay naturally alongside the daily Viking life of growing and preserving food and herbs; trading furs, medicine and tools; and politics, negotiations and fighting.
All in all, I thought Council was a heart-pounding, page-turner, with a darker, thriller twist to it than the previous book. My only issue was the cliffhanger end… I want to know what happens next, now! I really hope I don’t have to wait too long for the next book! Great read.
Thank you to the publishers, Quercus Books for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Have you read this? What do you think? Have you read any other Viking books?
This is book #3 for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIV.