Fire Born 2 – The Saxon Wolf: the epic saga of Bjarki and Tor continues . . .

I have finished the first draft of The Saxon Wolf, the sequel to The Last Berserker (below), and sent it off to my publisher. This is one of my favourite parts of the book-writing cycle: I get a glow from the knowledge that another one of my books actually exists in the world, and I don’t yet have any of the stress about whether people will like it, or whether they’ll actually buy it, which marks the publication phase of the cycle. This is the good, the relaxed time.

The Last Berserker is the first book in the Fire Born series

So I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a bit about this second book in the Fire Born series, what happens to whom and when – I’ll try to avoid unnecessary spoilers but a few may slip through and if that bothers you maybe you should wait till The Saxon Wolf comes out in autumn of this year (2021) and stop reading this now.

Still reading? OK, then. The book kicks off in Rerik, a grubby cosmopolitan port on the north coast of Europe, near modern-day Rostock in eastern Germany. It is ruled by a Wendish chieftain of the Obodrites tribe (Western Slavs) and Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are kicking their heels there trying to find a man, a long-haired dream-seller, whom Bjarki met in Brandenburg the year before, who offered him free land in the east in return for military service with a Polish duke. (If you’ve read The Last Berserker) you will understand. It’s Bjarki’s long-time ambition.

Anyway, they cannot find this dream-seller and end up going by ship to Hedeby, a bustling port on the east coast of the Dane-Mark. There, in the hall of King Siegfried, they are recruited by Widukind of Westphalia, a Saxon nobleman, who is trying to raise an army to eject the Franks from his homeland. The Franks are occupying large parts of Old Saxony – the area of north Germany roughly above the River Ruhr, east of the River Ems, and west of the River Elbe. Widukind is a gifted orator, a charismatic leader of warriors, and Tor finds him rather attractive, too.

Widukind is a real historical character – much mythologised and perhaps analogous to a Germanic Robin Hood. He bravely resisted the Franks, leading rebellion after rebellion against the Christian invaders for decades. He favoured hit-and-run tactics, classic asymmetrical warfare strategies, and hiding in the deep forest and ambushing Franks on the march. You can see why he is compared to Robin Hood. And perhaps why I find him an interesting character.

A 19th-century statue of Widukind of Westphalia

Bjarki and Tor sign up with Widukind and the novel follows their fortunes in the early part of the war against the Franks. But while this is a war story, and a love story, too, it is primarily about Bjarki struggling with his demons as a Rekkr, a fabled berserker. When his gandr (animal spirit – in Bjarki’s case, a bear spirit) comes in to a Rekkr, it gives him superhuman strength and stamina and the ferocity of a wild animal – but also a frenzied disregard for who he kills. One theory about berserkers is that they wore bearskins so that they could be distinguished by their allies in battle. The bearskin (or wolf skin) was a warning not to get too close to them in the fray. They killed indiscriminately.

Ulfhethnar – berserker warriors who wore the skins of wolves in battle

This is Bjarki’s problem – when he goes berserk he is just as likely to kill his dearest friends as his enemies. He’s like a small nuclear explosion going off. I think this is going to be a long-running theme in the Fire Born series. Certainly as I begin thinking about book 3, I will be continuing this bloody thread.

That’s enough for now. The Saxon Wolf will be out in the autumn, in paperback, as an eBook, and in audio versions, too – I still have a lot of stuff to do, editing, sorting out the cover, drawing a map and so on. But I hope when it is done you will be kind enough to give it a go. And if you haven’t read The Last Berserker, you can get a copy here.

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