Review: The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

32600758Published: August 1st 2017

Publisher: Harper

Genres: Historical Fiction, Mythology

Source: ARC via Publisher

My Rating: 4 Stars

Since the death of Ragnvald Eysteinsson’s father in battle, he has worked hard to protect his sister Svanhild and planned to inherit his family’s land when he comes of age. But when the captain of his ship tries to kill him on the way home from a raiding excursion, he must confront his stepfather’s betrayal, and find a way to protect his birthright. It is no easy feat in Viking-Age Norway, where a hundred petty rulers kill over parcels of land, and a prophesied high king is rising.

But where Ragnvald is expected to bleed, and even die, for his honour, Svanhild is simply expected to marry well. It’s not a fate she relishes, and when the chance to leave her stepfather’s cruelty comes at the hand of her brother’s arch-rival, Svanhild is forced to make the ultimate choice: family or freedom.

Drawing from the Icelandic Sagas, The Half-Drowned King takes inspiration from the true story of Ragnvald of Maer, the right hand man of King Harald Fairhair, first king of all Norway, and his sister, Svanhild, as she tries to find freedom in a society where the higher her brother rises, the greater her worth as a political pawn.

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I love historical fiction because it takes you back to a time when you have to ask yourself, could I have survived during that time period? If my 21st century self (20th born) was transported back right now, the answer would be no. Hell no. But to be born of that time, that would be all you know, so the ins and outs of everyday life would be no problem. I honestly have a lot of respect for people of the past. Without them, there would be no us. But…….VIKINGS! Politics aside, this time period fascinates the hell out of me. The Half-Drowned King is a politically filled saga, which kind of took a little out of the story for me. The beginning and ending made this story for me. Admittedly, I was drawn to this book by references to Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Outlander; : 3 of my favorite shows (and book series for one). While I can see the need for those big name comparisons, there was just much more political drama than I’m used to, and not enough action.

This story is centered around Ragnvald Eysteinsson and his sister, Svanhild. From the start, you immediately get a sense for both of these characters and the lives they are living. Ragnvald, the young raider who is attacked by someone he respects and trusts, and left for dead – Svanhild, the girl who  seemingly has no choices about her own life, and is expected to marry for beneficial purposes. Their evil stepfather, Olaf, is the mastermind behind it all. If Ragnvald is dead, that gives Olaf the chance to swipe his land and legacy. But, Olaf’s plan has a flaw; Ragnvald isn’t dead. And this is the start of some heavy politics and betrayals for this whole cast of characters. 

There isn’t a lot of action shown in this tale. And as I got further into the story, I realized that maybe the author wasn’t going for the bang. If so, she created a great fictional account of Norway’s history. Only focusing on the political aspects as the grounding for the overall story. Because, let me tell you, once Harald Fairhair entered the picture, I forgot about Ragnvald’s plight to take back what was his. Ragnvald became caught up in Norway’s politics. Svanhild had a more interesting and complex story, as she’s a woman trying to find her way, but first she must find her brother. And, gag, that the traitor Solvi wants her was enough for me to take the journey with her.

There is great world building in The Half-Drowned King. I appreciated that most of all about this novel. Now that I have the map in the finished book, I can easily plot the journeys of Ragnvald and Svanhild throughout. I definitely recommend this book if you love historical fiction. While it’s not as graphic as the show, Vikings, it will definitely give you a glimpse into 9th Century Norway and its politics.




About The Author

image003Linnea Hartsuyker grew up outside Ithaca, New York, and studied Engineering at Cornell University. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. She has read extensively of Icelandic sagas, kayaked and skied the fjordland settings for this novel, and has even become proficient in lifting Husafjell stones, as the Vikings did to become stronger. She lives in New York City with her husband.  For more on Linnea and her writing, visit:

6 thoughts on “Review: The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

  1. As much as the historical fiction period of Vikings does intrigue me and interest me, for the life of me I really can’t find a book about it that I have been able to actually enjoy? I don’t understand that! Although I do like it when my books are politically charged, so it appeals to me for that reason even though I know you don’t like that kind of thing.


  2. I always find myself imagining how I would handle living in whatever time period I am reading about. I don’t think I would do well. Of course, like you said if I was born in that time it would be all I know…and I would probably be tougher. This sounds like a really great read. Glad you enjoyed it!


  3. I couldn’t agree with you more about historical reads, I read them for the same reason, to picture myself there, wonder if I would survive and do the same things and of course for the actual learning of history as well (when they are properly researched that it). There is just something magical about being able to travel there without actually having to travel there. 😉
    So glad this was a good one for you, the Vikings certainly were fascinating weren’t they?


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