Meadowland by Tom Holt

(8.7/10)

Tom Holt's latest foray into historical fantasy is as classy as the previous efforts. He has a somewhat unique premise that runs through all his historical novels - namely to prove that history is just a consequence of arbitrary discussions by the main protagonists. So, for example, in the book, ‘Alexander at the World's End’ he tells us that everything this global legend did was due to the farce of yapping dog philosophy by Euxenus. In this effort we learn that Harald Sigurdson's decision not to settle in America and thus set the discovery back several hundred years was entirely due to a conversation with our story's narrator John Stetathus.

His narrative style also follows the same formula. Just as with Cratus and Cleander in ‘Olympiad’, so here we have the aging Eyvind and Kari telling their story in one continuous chronology though with their own voices at different times whilst stuck in a wet cave after the axle falls off their money cart. It's rather good and anyone who has liked the previous novels will enjoy this one.

Not much actually happens in this novel, concerning, as it does the ill-fated voyages of Kari and Eyvind with various members of Eirik the Red's progeny. The pair spend most of their lives joined at the hip, grumbling about each other whilst drifting between Greenland and Meadowland over the course of six voyages.

The first is a brief visit with Bjarni Herjolfsson after getting blown off course whilst attempting to reach Greenland. The second is with Leif Eirikson where the infamous Leif's booths are founded before misery sets in and they ship back. The third is with Thorvald Eirikson after Eirik dies and Leif takes over running of Brattahlid. The voyage ends up with them encountering the indigenous population and killing them before returning again to Greenland. The fourth is with Thorstein - a particularly ill-fated voyage as they never get to Meadowland but instead end up a day's sail down the Greenland coast suffering the plague. The fifth occurs with `Bits' Thorfinn, who has ideas of a great settlement but no actual clue as to how to implement it. This is a fairly lengthy sojourn with the birth of the first child in Meadowland and a prolonged fight with the indigenous population which is resolved by a large bull and Gudrid's bare chest.

Lastly, we have a voyage where our protagonists are taken against their will by the evil Freydis Eiriksdatter who is in partnership with some Icelanders to form a settlement and ship trade wood. This ends up in mass murder and another failed settlement attempt and concludes the narrative.

Mixed in are the sibling's rivalry over Gudrid, unplanned dreams and generally ineffectual leadership tantrums. Kari and Eyvind spend most of their time just getting on with everything in a quiet and generally lazy way, becoming the men to have on each voyage and recorders of the true attempts to colonise America in the early part of the eleventh century.

Tom Holt's historical novels are utterly refreshing. The nostalgic dialogue that seeks to prove some kind of philosophy just ends up in proving the chaos that controls our lives and events. At the end it's all down to pure luck and happenstance and there's not much we can do about it other than simply tell the story. Holt has managed to create a genre all by himself where he mixes history and philosophy to come up with something that is both subtly comic and delightful to read. If you've not done so yet, give these books a go. You won't be disappointed.

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