Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bad Vikings! Bad, Bad, Vikings!

I picked up The Humming of Numbers when I saw it on the library shelf for one reason and one reason alone--I recognized the author, Joni Sensel's name from The Spectacle. Her book is a well-written historical romance with fantasy elements.

Aidan, an Irish monk-in-training, runs into Lana, the illegitimate daughter of the local lord, at his monastery where she's been sent to shape up. Though Aidan tries to conform to monastic life because he really wants to work there as a scribe, he has this little problem with what he calls hearing numbers--he associates numbers with people and things. Lana, on the other hand, doesn't make much of an attempt to conform to early Christianity. She's a sort of woods witch.

Aidan, of course, is seriously tempted by her. He manages to put her out of his mind much of the time because the day after they meet, Vikings arrive to do their raping and pillaging thing at the monastery and the surrounding villages.

Two things struck me about this story:

1. I found myself...ah...responding strongly to those freaking Vikings. I started thinking of them as Dark Age Nazis. I've read that Vikings raided because of economic need and that, eventually, many of them gave up taking slaves and robbing and settled in Ireland and northern France. What? It took them generations to think of emigration?

Vikings destroying an Irish monastary is kind of a classic situation if you've ever done any research on the tenth century. (Which I have, many years ago, for a book that's on life support somewhere here in the office.) They really seemed to love those places. So, for me the basic situation in The Humming of Numbers was very realistic.

2. One problem I have with romantic thrillers is that it's hard for me to believe that individuals would think of romance while they're running for their lives or dealing with death and dismemberment, etc. While The Humming of Numbers doesn't involve the kind of eroticism you find in Twilight, I did feel that Aidan's feelings for Lana were beyond his control and inconvenient. Thus, the romance here worked better for me than it does in many books.

I think The Humming of Numbers is stronger as a historical novel than it is as a fantasy. That's fine for me, since I prefer historical fiction to fantasy. I don't know if fantasy readers might be a bit disappointed, though.

Suggestion: This might be a good addition to a middle school/high school library that needs historical fiction to accompany classes.

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