War of the Gods
The Epic Saga of Hadding, The Legendary Viking King and Warrior
By Poul Anderson
G. K. Hall & Co., Large Print, (1998)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - December 9, 2001
Poul Anderson is best known for his science fiction novels. Consequently, readers may be surprised that his book, War of the Gods, is not a work of science fiction. In fact, it just barely fits into the realm of fantasy. In War of the Gods, Anderson has retold the legends surrounding Hadding Gramsson, the son of the Danish King Gram and his second wife Signy. Norse myth holds that Hadding was really something more than a man - that he was in fact infused with the spirit of Njord. A member of the Norse pantheon, Njord was a member of the Vanir and he was worshiped as the god of the wind and the sea. Not much is known about Hadding. However, it is obvious that Anderson has done a great deal of research into his background, as well as into the Norse legends and time period in which the story is set. More important, this book is greatly enhanced by Anderson's inclusion of an afterword that detailed the extent of his research and how he constructed the narrative.
War of the Gods is a dark and violent story. In it, Anderson juxtaposes a war being fought between the Vanir and Odin's Aesir, with that of a war being fought between the Danish and Norse kings. Both wars are resplendent with betrayal, murder, and much unhappiness, both for the metaphysical combatants and for the humans over which they ruled.
Hadding was born when the war between his father Gram and the Norse king Svipdag was in full swing. Gram is killed in battle. When Svipdag conquers Denmark, Hadding and his older brother Gudorm are sent to live with a family of giants. There Hadding, still a baby, is nursed by the giant Hardgreip. When he grows to manhood, Hardgreip becomes his first lover. By the time Hadding is grown, his older brother is already dead, so he sets out on a journey to reclaim his heritage, and his rightful throne.
War of the Gods is a sweeping adventure story. Hadding must defeat a host of villains, battle monsters, and his own fears. Along the way he gathers about him a stalwart band of followers who aid him on his quest. Throughout, it is apparent that the gods are only too willing to interfere with the lives of mortals. From start to finish, Hadding's story is magnificently interwoven with a detailed overview of Norse mythology. As well, this story does not simply end when Hadding has retaken his throne. In many regards, this book could be viewed as a biography, albeit fictional, of Hadding, as it follows his life, from his birth through to his afterlife. This narrative manages to evoke the essence of the Norse sagas, and the text has almost the same cadence and follows the same basic plot outline followed in many of these sagas. This may be a bit off-putting to readers looking for a fast-paced story. But for those willing to take the time to immerse themselves in the details of the story, they will find that they are richly rewarded with a riveting, and realistic, glimpse into past.
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