Friday, April 29, 2011

West Oversea: A Norse Saga of Mystery, Adventure and Faith

West Oversea: A Norse Saga of Mystery, Adventure and Faith is just that--a saga of mystery, adventure and faith. Lars Walker delivers a fascinating look at the convergence of Christianity and mythology, in Norway, Iceland, Finland and Greenland, in the years surrounding 1002. West Oversea is told from the point of view of Father Aillil, an Irish-Norwegian priest who serves lord and landholder, Erling Skjalgsson.

One day, Erling's long-lost older brother returns to Norway, and demands rights to the lands Erling holds. In an effort to keep the peace, Erling cedes power to his brother, and decides to seek his fortune elsewhere. Father Aillil convinces Erling to sail to Greenland, where he believes his sister has been enslaved. In a strange turn of events, Father Aillil is entrusted with the task destroying an evil eye, a relic encased in a wooden chest. The eye gives the bearer second sight, and even though Father Aillil has preached against such things in the past, he is tempted to keep the eye and use it, rather than destroy it.

Walker combines ancient sea-faring adventure with ghosts, spirits, and journeys under enchanted mountains. While under the influence of the eye, Father Aillil sees spirits of the dead, has premonitions of imminent events, and has several strange visions of the future. In one, all of 21st-century Europe has become Muslim, and in another, 21st-century America has fallen into anarchy.

There are several conflicts within the novel. In one, Ulf Lodinsson, a shape-shifter, pursues Erling in order to exact revenge for the death of his family. He appears as various animals, including a wolf, bear and raven. Once Father Aillil casts off the eye, he is able to assist in defeating Ulf. Another conflict occurs when Erling and his men return to Norway. They quickly realize Erling's brother is not who he seems. Only through battle are they able to regain Erling's lands, and restore order and justice to the land.

Although Father Aillil does not find his sister, his search is not in vain, and he realizes sometimes God calls us to faithfulness in small things, instead of grand missions.

What I Like: West Oversea gives us an interesting view of a time and place I, personally, was not familiar with. I enjoyed learning about Scandinavian history at the time the novel takes place.

The book also made me curious about Norse mythology, as I would guess many of Father Aillil's experiences in the spirit world would have connections to actual Norse myths.

I was very glad for the map and comprehensive list of characters and pronunciation guide, at the beginning of the book. This list helped immensely in keeping the story and characters straight.

What I Dislike: The book seemed disjointed at times. Father Aillil's visions of the future seemed to be a platform for Walker to include social commentary in the book, but they didn't seem to fit with the rest of the novel.

Also, this is not really a "dislike," but a word of caution: the book is told from the point of view of a middle-aged priest, who sometimes struggles with his calling, particularly as it relates to celibacy. He wishes for a woman's kindness, and chafes at being left with the mothers and children during battles. There are also references to rape and sexuality, but nothing of a graphic nature. However, the book seems more suited to adults.

Overall Rating: Good

Age Appeal: 16 and up

Publisher Info: Nordskog Publishing, 2009; ISBN: 978-0-9796736-8-9; Paperback, 275 pages, $12.95

Buy it Now at for $9.99.

OR Buy it at for $10.78.

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