The Year of the Warrior
In this book, part of which was previously published under the title Erling’s Word, Aillil, an Irish slave brought to serve the Vikings around the year 1000 A.D., tells the story of his years of service in Norway. Aillil was a failure as a monk, but suddenly he finds his freedom — not to mention his life — depending on his service as a priest to the newly Christianized people of Lord Erling’s lands. The book is saga-like in its depiction of the people of the new land, and of Aillil’s spiritual journey, which proves to be rather rocky.
The book is less fantasy than it is historical fiction with an ample dosage of spiritual warfare thrown in. Aillil finds himself in head-on battles with the forces of evil; he faces the pagan gods and their servants, a master sorcerer promoting Eastern relativism and pantheism, and corruption among Church leaders who still hold to the old ways in secret. Some of the scenes of spiritual battle work quite well literarily; others, including a ridiculous semi-dream sequence conversation with the Norse god Thor, do not. But throughout the author maintains a strongly Christian viewpoint, and his characters candidly discuss matters of faith, without glossing over difficult questions. In particular Walker explores the idea of conversion of an entire people, the ethics of “forced conversion”, and the difficulties for both Christians and non-Christians living in a time between eras, with paganism and Christianity mixed confusingly.
Walker’s writing style confused me for awhile; scores of characters move in and out of the story constantly, and very few remain in the picture through the entire book. Hugely important events and completely insignificant ones are mixed together with equal narrative time given to each, and I could find no semblance of a straightforward plot. This was disorienting, but as Walker is attempting a saga-like book, I suppose it is understandable (although of questionable literary merit). However, his writing style in general failed to capture my interest; he crafts words quite well at times, but at other times jarringly modern phrases abound. He also failed to impart a true sense of place to me — I was unable to picture the setting and did not get a feel for the era. This may be partly because of his reliance upon dialogue to convey the story; he does, however, write dialogue quite well (although the modern phrases detract even more from the setting).
As a general content note: the book does contain ample references to the violence of the era, although it is usually not too graphic. It also contains quite a lot of sexual references, including a fair amount of rape. However, while this subject matter itself sets this book aside as adult reading, the sexual material is never graphic or, in my opinion, inappropriate.