God’s Daughter, by Heather Day Gilbert (Createspace, 2013)
If all you know about Vikings are the names Eric the Red and Leif Ericsson, God’s Daughter is a great way to learn more and to perhaps break some stereotypes. For example, I didn’t know they had any exposure to Christianity. Or that Eric’s name is properly spelled Eiric.
Many of the novel’s characters are genuine historical figures, and their voyage actually happened around 1000 AD. The setting and events have been meticulously researched to allow Heather Day Gilbert to weave a story that feels true.
The main character, a Viking woman named Gudrid, travels with her sailor-trader husband and his crew in search of Leif Ericsson’s Vinland. This man, Finn, is Gudrid’s third husband, the first two having died of “the shivering sickness.” She knows he loves her, but why can’t he be more thoughtful and protective, like his business partner, Snorri?
Together, then separately, they face down mutineers among the crew, attacking natives, and other dangers. Likely none of us have experienced Gudrid and Finn’s dangers, but just as likely we’ve all had trouble with comparisons and expectations. This is a subplot to the main story of the voyage, but for me it makes a connecting point that brings the characters even more alive.
Gudrid is one of the few Christians in the story, and she lives her faith the best she can based on what she’s been taught. She longs for her own copy of the Holy Book—and to be able to read—so she could learn more. As the story progresses, she articulates her turmoil this way:
Can I ever be happy where I am, with my own husband? What is wrong with me? And why do I always search for a protector? [Kindle location 3130]
She trusts God, but she’s still working toward the understanding that in Him alone can she find the protection and the love she craves.
God’s Daughter is a satisfying historical novel with characters I cared about. Details like methods of treating illness and the differences between Europeans’ and Vikings’ approaches to toilet training (Gudrid and Finn have a young son) flow naturally to help readers imagine the story world. There are no information dumps in this novel, nor any of the other awkward moments that can come with a debut novel.
My favourite line: Gudrid describes Snorri as “rubbing his hand over his bald head in a gesture that always makes me think he misses his hair.” [Kindle location 1521]
Heather Day Gilbert has crafted an amazing tale, brimming with adventure, compassion and insight. There’s much more to God’s Daughter than I can capture in a review, so let me just say I highly recommend this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Forest Child.
You can find Heather Day Gilbert at her website, along with maps, a glossary and other bonus features related to the novel. Take a few minutes to read the opening chapters of God’s Daughter (and be prepared to want more).
[Review copy from my personal library.]