Set in 1022, the story begins in the “land of the Franks” (today’s France, since she lived near Paris). It tells of Helena from the village of Aubergon who was taken in a raid by the Danes and is now to be sold as a slave. Norse chieftain Hakan the Tall of Svea (the word means Swede so perhaps he’s from Sweden), is tired of war and intends to become a farmer. He wants to buy a slave to teach him Frankish and help him in his wine trade.
I found the beginning of the story intriguing as Helena waits on the slave block while she and another woman are looked over by prospective purchasers. Though he wanted a docile older woman, Hakan buys Helena and they sail back to Svea. Once there, though she is a thrall, he elevates her to care for his house and lands, giving her much freedom and status. But the only thing she wants is to go home. Though Haken is attracted to Helena, he has no intent to marry again. His first wife divorced him and is a selfish woman who keeps his son, though by their law the boy should live with his father. Meanwhile, King Olof requires Haken’s sword in akendealing with some bad guys who are in league with the Danes. And Haken makes a deal with Helena that if she can get back his son, he will return her to her home.
This is the author’s debut novel. Her style is a bit different and took a bit of getting used to but once I got past that, I thought it an absorbing story. She has created a believable Viking world, though one has to wonder if any thrall was ever treated like Helena. I thought Conkle’s treatment of emotions and the growing feelings between Haken and Helena very well done. However, there is only one abbreviated love scene which some may find surprising at this for a Viking story. Let’s just say the Viking hero here is a gentleman.
It has the feel of part one of the story as much is left unresolved when you get to the last page. Haken’s land and security—even his king—are threatened by betrayal and the avarice of others yet we don't get to find out what happens. I could only assume that 199 pages were not enough to finish the story and perhaps there will be a next installment. And since his wine trade did not feature in this book, it may be in the next.