Danegeld
by Susan Squires, historical (2001)
LoveSpell, $5.50, ISBN 0-505-52446-5


More evidence that Dorchester is run by babboons - this book never did make its way here. I have to order from Amazon, pay $12.00 in shipping, and the net cost of Danegeld for me is $17.50. Babboons, I tell you.

Anyway, there are some pretty good raves about this book. Maybe I am expecting too much, but Danegeld just bewilders me because I don't understand the heroine Britta at all. Since Britta is telling this story (the story however is written in third person - no "Hello, this is me, Britta!" sort of storytelling), I'd think she could do a better job explaining her motivations.

The best way to describe the plot is road trip with some touches of magic. Britta is a healer with a lousy past, and now she may or may not have lost her magic and lives in a deserted island with a wolfy doggie named Fenris. One day, she witnesses a Viking raid plundering, raping, and looting the Saxon village she has just plied her healing skills to. The Vikings, however, are led right into an ambush. Only our Viking leader Karn survives - barely. By the way, this book doesn't shy away from depicting violence. Readers looking for Noble, Sensitive Vikings please read Josie Litton's A Hero Named Dragon/Hawk/Wolf/Bear stories. Of course , Karn is rather sensitive and all, but egad, watch his men rape and loot and murder, man. This is so... I wish I've read this book before September 11. Cartoony violence I can take. Real violence disturbs me.

Anyway, for the rest of the story, the violence and dangers and all pile up to the point that everything does become rather cartoony.

Britta is ordered by the Saxon boss whom she despises for killing her father and all, et cetera, to heal the Viking. She does, gets some vision about she and this Viking (vague and as long as one paragraph), and next thing I know she is risking limb, life, and wolfie to save this man.

I scratch my head here. A woman who spends her life avoiding and abhorring violence risking everything for a man she witnesses brutalizing people - just because of a vague vision thingie?

They go on a road trip to find some powerful witch to play guru to Britta, Skarn finds sexual healing in playing Macho Dude to Britta's rather execessive Trials and Troubles, and... eh.

Okay, I love the rich atmosphere of this story. It's so real, the way the author uses details of the Dark Ages, myths and legends and superstitions and all, to make it seem as if I'm actually living in that era. The violence, it's real too. At the same time, the magic thing of Britta comes off as rather loopy, B-grade fantasy, as is the whole Britta Becomes Super odyssey. And I still don't understand why Karn is allowed to tag along - what does Britta want with him? I don't exactly understand that still. Karn sees Britta as a way to get home, now that I understand. Anyway, he and Britta fall in love in a rather rote, lacklustre way. Somehow in all the rich details and atmosphere, the emotional aspect of the story is lost.

There's some nice plot twists in this story about Britta, I admit, but like I said, I don't understand her. "What is she doing now? Why is she doing that?" I keep asking myself. Britta in the end comes off rather like a stereotypical heal-everybody-because-I'm-such-a-plot-cipher character. She saves Karn and she falls for him not because she has to, but because the author wants her to.

Still, it is nice to visit a distant land in a distant time for a few hours, thanks to the author's skilful descriptive style. However Danegeld is bleak and gloomy - sometimes too much - with little emotional poignancy to make it worth the pay-off. As a first book - unless I'm greatly mistaken - Danegeld is impressive. As a romance, well, it can use more character depths, a little less inept fantasy elements, and a more developed romance between the main leads.

Rating: 77


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