First published in 1997, and re-released by the author in 2011, this is a Viking story with an Irish heroine. It begins in Ireland in 805 A.D., but with a Viking raid, moves to the land of the Norsemen where Gillgannon puts you in the middle of the Viking culture.
Fiona of Dunsheana, daughter of an Irish chieftain, faced a marriage she didn’t want, one arranged by her father. Being a clever girl, she conceived of a bizarre plan to avoid the marriage by giving herself to a Viking prisoner, Dag Thorsson, which would render her unworthy. Though she goes to Dag and sheds her clothes, he believes she’s one of the fairies he’s heard about and is too injured to do anything anyway. Taking pity on him, Fiona tends his wounds. He recovers—just in time for a Viking raid by his brother where Fiona is taken captive.
Fiona is allowed to live because she saved Dag’s life. Immersed in the Vikings’ culture, she is exposed to a language she does not speak and is dependent upon Dag’s protection. Amazingly, Dag does not take Fiona to his bed, at least not until it’s her idea. Fiona has her challenges. She is mistrusted by the Norse for her understanding of herbs and her modern views that women should be able to control when they have children. Like many Norsemen, when the woman he is coming to care for is shunned by his people, Dag begins to wonder if his future might lie in Ireland.
The pace of the story may seem a bit leisurely, but I appreciated Gillgannon’s research into Viking life reflected in the details of her story, the long houses, the clothing, the food. You get a picture of what it was like to live as a Norseman. Fiona is a strong heroine who continues to see herself as the Irish princess even though she is now a slave. She can also be foolish. Dag seems the understanding male with a soft side for both animals and women, especially Fiona. Some might find him a bit modern in his views, especially for a Viking, but there had to be such men even among the Norsemen at the time.
Gillgannon has included a poem that is delightful. Here are some of the first lines:
He says he’s Irish
But I look into those eyes
Blue as the North Sea
And I know he’s an immigrant
Like all the rest
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