Forest Child, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2016)
As Eirik the Red’s illegitimate daughter, Freydis has always fought for equality with her half-brothers. Her adventurous temperament and her father’s indulgence have shaped her into a fierce hunter and warrior and a skilled sailor.
Desperate to prove her worth and lay claim to the inheritance she believes should be hers, she has led a crew back to the New World to plunder its rich resources. When she meets tragedy and danger, she protects her family the only way she knows how – and carries the decision as an unconfessed burden she can share with no-one.
The story is set around AD 1000 and spans three parts: Vinland (the New World), Greenland, and Iceland. This is book two in the Vikings of the New World Saga, following God’s Daughter, the story of Freydis’ Christian sister-in-law, Gudrid.
You could read book two without having read book one, but not only would you miss a stellar read, you’d have less empathy for Freydis in Forest Child because you wouldn’t have as strong a sense of her past.
Except for the opening prologue, the story is told in the first person, present tense, by Freydis. This evokes a strong sense of place and a connection with Freydis, an impulsive woman whose actions are often misunderstood by those around her.
Readers see her thoughts and can trace her motives even in her most destructive choices. Understanding Freydis’ mindset (as a Viking but also as a strong woman afraid to depend on others or on God) is key to caring for her as the novel’s protagonist.
Freydis, as well as many of the other characters of this series, is based on a real historic figure. Much of the Vikings of the New World Saga draws on The Sagas of the Greenlanders, and so this fictional retelling of history has many predetermined events.
While the content is never gratuitous, the Vikings’ violence and pagan roots make these novels feel darker than what some might expect of Christian historical fiction. Forest Child is darker than God’s Daughter, because of the different natures of the protagonists, but both novels resolve with hope.
Forest Child contains a few violent scenes that timid readers may wish to skim. They’re written with all possible sensitivity, and since the author drew from actual events, they’re not optional to Freydis’ story. What they do is allow characters and readers to consider themes of family, vengeance, murder, faith, and redemption. Oddly, the decision Freydis makes which troubled me most (the one I really wanted to make her reconsider) is not found in these scenes.
These fierce, long-ago Vikings become people we connect with, despite the differences in cultures. Many of us know too well what it’s like to fight for respect or position, to fall outside what’s socially acceptable… and to fear the vulnerability that comes with trusting others. Many also know what Freydis needs to discover: God loves us no matter who or where we are, and His forgiveness changes everything.
Heather Day Gilbert took the building blocks of history and breathed life and relatable motivations into these characters. I wish I had time to read the original sagas to discover where fact and fiction meet.
The book ends with a family tree of the main characters, and a glossary of Viking terms and pronunciations.
Heather Day Gilbert also writes present-day suspense novels set in West Virginia. As well as drawing readers into richly-detailed settings and believable characters, her fiction explores the dynamics of marriage relationships and how faith can affect daily life. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.
[Review copy provided by the author.]