Having always been fascinated by Viking Mythology I naturally gravitated towards reading award-winning, Australian author, Jackie French. This historical novel was originally published in Australia as They Came in Viking Ships and then in U.K. as The Slave Girl.
Jackie French’s historical novel is based on real events in the Icelandic Sagas written about eight hundred years ago. The sagas tell the story of Erik the Red, founder of the Greenland Colony and his son Leif who sailed to Vinland. During her research, the author discovered Freydis, Erik the Red’s daughter, a leader of men. Rover makes a fascinating read about this period – it is the remarkable story of two, very strong, courageous female characters from completely different backgrounds.
Freydis is a Viking chief’s daughter and Hejak a Viking thrall kidnapped from her native island. Freydis, the imposing Viking warrior claims Hejak as her thrall. Freydis is determined to prove herself as her father Eric and brother Leif did before her, by discovering new lands. The author tells us that we will never know what Freydis was really like and she suspects she has been lost to history because the later male writers didn’t know what to make of her. French gives us a glimpse of a real Viking warrior-woman in her character, Freydis.
Hejak is able to prove herself over and over again, beginning with the treacherous voyage to Greenland after she was captured. She survives a storm and also bravely dives overboard to rescue her loyal wolfhound, Snarfarai. The dog also proves himself by being able to sniff out unseen icebergs and saves the whole party on the Viking longboat. Freydis names him Ice-Nose.
The relationship between the the thrall Hejak, and and the warrior Freydis gradually evolves from slave and mistress to daughter and mother as Freydis eventually adopts Hejak. (This was apparently quite a common thing to do during this period as it was a way to make important alliances and ensure loyalty) They voyage to Vinland together after Erik the Red dies.
The story climaxes with an amazing description of a battle with the Skraelings; the natives of Vinland. The Norsemen try to run away, yes, the Vikings try to run……! but Freydis their leader, who is eight months pregnant, shrieked a blood curdling battle cry and rips her dress so the bodice hung down and exposed her pregnant belly. “ She bent down and picked up a sword from a man crumpled at her feet, then slapped it three times against her naked breast. “If men will not fight, then women must!”and she charged a horde of Skraelings shrieking like a storm on a mountain. The Skraelings stopped.” The Norsemen finally came to her aid at this point! After the battle Freydis and Hekja were referred as berserkers – perhaps the greatest warriors but without the animal skins!
Definitely fast paced action, story goes from strength to strength with historically accurate details. Junior Fiction, recommended for Grades 5-8 and up. Jackie French is the author of Diary of a Wombat and Hitler’s Daughter.