It’s summer of 970. Meet the clan.
A young woman Helga Finnsdottir has been living with the family for eleven years. She’s bright, intelligent, brave, and very anxious about forthcoming reunion at the settlement.
Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson has retired from the longboats and settled down with Hildigunnur in a remote valley and now leads a quiet life as a farmer. Tales of his riches and concealed treasure chest still travel across the land though he strenuously denies their existence. The parents await the arrival of four siblings after ten years of absence:
‘You children! You are all awful and horrible – which clearly means you must be ours’.
They’re coming with their spouses and offspring, and hidden darkness in their hearts: dark, dangerous Karl, lithe, clever Jorunn, gentle Aslak, bullied by his shrewish wife, and the giant Bjorn, embarrassed by Volund, his idiotic son. Laughter and noise bounce off the trees and under the beautiful sky but as the uneasy meeting gathers pace the old feuds and never forgotten quarrels resurface. Jealousy and thinly-veiled hatred take over the short-lived moments of contentment, enjoying stews and coarse jokes. It appears that everyone wants to take what’s theirs and assume that the old man must share his treasures and the estate between them, and as soon as possible.
‘I only want what I deserve.’
One morning Helga wakes up to horrendous screams and strange metallic smell. Blood has been shed. Everyone is terrified to find one of the brothers murdered under the roof of the parents’ homestead. What’s more shocking is that the ancient guests’ rights have been violated. Unnthor and Hildigunnur try to keep their despair and fury from boiling over. No one confesses but everything points to one person. Helga feels that she’s got to find the killer, especially as she’s convinced of the suspect’s innocence and inability to destroy anyone. Also, she’s part of the family yet an outsider, the adopted daughter, lacking blood ties. She tries to engage her best friend Einar in her thinking and searches but comes against wall of reluctance. Twenty-five-year old Einar, working with his father at the farm, behaves strangely and suspicious.
Kin by Snorri Kristjansson, the Icelander who has made Edinburgh his home, is an entertaining tale of family tensions and murder, where survival, rivalry and greed make a potent mixture constantly ready to explode. Kristjansson writes vividly (you can feel the heat, smell blood, hear Norse Gods) and with passion, emphasising the importance of well-established tradition and honour in all Viking dealings:
‘Who you are is not to be measured in wealth or fear, but in the weight of your name.’
At the same time while setting up a believable background full of domestic jobs, showing the harsh reality of everyday life, and the need to be tough, hard, and have a degree of trust in the immediate clan in order to survive. He’s generous with humour so you can have a breather while the tension mounts:
‘He’ll come back to haunt us, mostly because he’ll annoy everyone wherever he goes and gets kicked out.’
What a fair assessment of a slain Viking!
The author dispenses ambers of wisdom about the position of women:
‘Men rule the world. They are chieftains, they are captains, they are kings. And they will make big decisions. And when they do, the woman who has poured ale down their throat and words in their ear gets to decide what those decisions are.’
You’ll enjoy Kin, the excellent detective story where Helga is learning how to grow into a brave Viking woman while being fair and just. The young heroine will be back in the next book.
Review by guest blogger Ewa Sherman
Published: Quercus, 8 March 2018 – International Women’s Day