This is a review of “Harald” by David D. Friedman.
Beware the storyteller with a sword.
Harald Haraldsson, farmer, sometime commander of the allied armies, and the best storyteller in the Northvales, has a problem. The new king prefers subjects to allies and the Emperor – who has the best infantry in the world – has once again set his sight on Kingdom of Kaerlia. Harald has to put alliances back together, raise an army from the Vales where nobody owes allegiance to anyone, end a civil war, persuade a young king that he is making a very large mistake. And do it all with as little killing as possible.
But wars are not won only by fighting, even the Emperor’s troops has to eat and drink; Harald has a lot of friends, and a story, sometimes, is more useful than a sword.
It is a rich world we are thrown into, well thought out and yet not unnecessarily complicated. There is clear variations geographically, the cultures are excellent and it’s varied enough to not get confusing. The characters are well made, and I personally love that the main character throughout the book is an elder man – he’s a father and even grandfather – just short of getting too old for wars. He has experience and he isn’t shy about drawing on it, teaching others or even meeting old enemies. The stories Harald tells gains him friends and access to most places.
There are a few things that I feel knock this book down. First of all is the manner in which it is written. The structure of the sentences. There is nothing wrong grammatically as far as I can see, it’s just that the sentences are short, factual, to the point. Almost clinical and cold with very little embellishment, and sometimes it was difficult and confusing the follow who said what about whatever. Sometimes I had to read ahead to understand what had been said before even if it should have been obvious when I read it. What is worse is that this isn’t constant. In the last third of the book it deviates from the strict, short sentences. Not a lot, but it does.
Secondly I felt as if I was reading a clinical report about something, not a fictional story. I couldn’t quite get lost in the story in the same way as other books, I couldn’t quite get empathic with the various characters. Even during the exciting moments the excitement wasn’t really there. It was more like a historical recitation at school. Thirdly from the middle of the book and out we suddenly start to periodically experience things from the enemy’s side. It could have worked better than it did but few to none of these people have been mentioned before. I also feel like Harald as a character is a bit too smart/too successful in countering and anticipating the enemy’s moves even with the years of experience that he has. And lastly it was like reading two different stories in one book with a very sharp and abrupt time-skip in the middle.
All in all, I’m rather satisfied with the book. It’s good, rich and interesting, but could have been written in a way to make it more alive to the reader. Worth the time to read and I recommend it!