“If you understand your people’s hearts, possess wisdom and learn from the knowledge of your forefathers your life will be a long one.” ”
“Hall of Bones” is the first book in “The Brotherhood of the Eagle” by Tim Hardie. This entry will certainly only add to the current buzz around the sub-genre of Norse-Inspired fantasy. Remarkable book!
Hall of Bones is set in the land of Laskar, an isolated area of the world, where for the past 100 years, seven primary rival clans have jostled for power. When we first enter the story, we find Rothgar, second son of ruling clan Chief, Kolfinaar of the Reavesburg faction, in a dire situation, facing imminent death. Rothgar reflects back, in despair, on how he arrived in his current tragic predicament, and then the story goes back in time from Rothgar childhood, displaying the events that led Rothgar to where he is in the prologue of the novel.
We learn Rothgar was raised in a warm and loving family environment, with Kolfinaar, the latest in a long unbroken string of successive Reavesburg Chiefs, at the head. Rothgar’s older brother Jorik, with whom he shares an affectionate bond, is heir to his father’s chieftain’s seat. Rothgar’s sister Nuna is close to Rothgar too. However it is planned that Nuna to be used, unfortunately – in typical fashion for women of such a patriarchal world / period – as a pawn in marriage, to forge alliances. The place in the world of Kolfinaar’s children is pre-determined by their birth, as expected in noble families of this nature. Jorik will rule after Kolfinaar. Nuna will essentially wed to broker peace and secure additional fealty, and at most, Rothgar can aspire to be Jorik’s main jarl and warlord.
But trouble looms, as opposing clans vie for rulership, and sinister magical forces are at play in the shadows, waiting to throw chaos into the orderly plans for succession put in place by Kolfinaar.
This novel was just my jam, ticking all appropriate boxes. It’s predominantly a first-person story, narrated by Rothgar. The reader sees Rothgar evolve from the child of a nobleman, into a burgeoning young warrior, using his sword-skills and wits, filled with passion and commitment to supporting his clan, as he finds love, develops into quite the young statesman, sinks down into disgrace, experiencing horrible trauma, and discovers hidden talents and fortitude.
Oral memory of the history of the clans, the various gods, the famed conflicts, dynastic lineages, and how magic is used, is interspersed with compelling family drama in Hardie’s work. The secondary characters, good or bad, are well-drawn, believable, and very interesting. But the book very much is Rothgar’s book, and it feeds my personal preference for character-driven over plot driven novels. Rothgar goes through quite the transformation in “Hall of Bones”.
I loved how Hardie throws in some very surprising plot twists, after leading the reader to believe Rothgar’s destiny will be one thing, when it becomes something quite different and unique. It was fascinating, and I could not put the book down until I found out what happened to Rothgar, and how he adapted to his new circumstances.
Just because Hardie has excelled in crafting a great character-centred novel, that is not to say the plot is not incredible, well-paced, and engaging. It surely is. Using clear, straightforward prose, intermingled with poetic and impactful verse, Hardie recounts all the epic battles, intense and high-stakes political manoeuvering, ties of family, friendship, and loyalty to ones oaths that bind, in exceptionally adept fashion.
Lovers (such as I) of the television show “Vikings”, landmark series/books in the ASOIAF collection by the esteemed GRRM, “The Saxon Stories” by legendary Bernard Cornwell, or “The Shadow of the Gods” by the illustrious John Gwynne, will find themselves in a comfortable place reading Hardie.
A must with a novel of this scope and that many primary, auxiliary, and tertiary characters, Hardie provides a list of characters and their tribe affiliations in the back of the book, and accompanying maps of the world of Laskar, that readers will find it handy to refer to, as they weave their way through the competing clans, and places travelled by the protagonist.
Hall of Bones is a vibrant, extremely well-written, and unforgettable debut in a series, that will have readers clamouring for the follow-up. Five stars glowing for Tim Hardie and his first installment of “The Brotherhood of the Eagle”!