Norse Jewel by Gina Conkle Builds on Viking Interest While Adding a Great New Voice to Historical Fiction

9 Oct

Norse Jewel by Gina Conkle (Entangled, June 2013)

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever read a Viking-themed romance before this one. Chances are it probably happened in the 80s, hardly the heyday of consensual relationships and whatever I read probably scarred me for a while. That said, I find Norse history fascinating, with their rich mythology and legends and a culture based on a combination of agriculture and carefully executed raids on neighboring lands for goods and slaves.

My great-grandfather was actually from Sweden and while family accounts have him as quite the jackass personality (“mean” and “taciturn” were words bandied about by his wife, my French great-grandmother), he was quite the personality. He immigrated a little after the turn of the twentieth century, actually rode in the U.S. Calvary against Pancho Villa in the American Southwest and then became a chauffeur during the time of World War I in New York City. My great-grandmother came to America from France in 1918 with a couple of her sisters (she was the youngest at a mere 17) trying to escape the devastation of France and got work as a nursery maid for a rich family in Manhattan. Guess who was next door? The handsome, tall, blond Swedish chauffeur, that’s who. They ended up married and with two children, yet she continued to work for the family for some time, traveling all over with them (we called her Tutu after the Hawaiian name for grandmother because her employers spent so much time there).

As Tutu used to say, luckily for her he died (not romantic, I know) because they had a terrible marriage and he was an awful husband. She followed up this disaster of a marriage by marrying the man who would be the love of her life and treated her like a princess, so she got a happy ending, but the legacy of the Swedish great-grandfather lives on in our family who you would easily mistake for Vikings. The men are extremely tall, blond or red-haired with pale blue eyes and the women are beautiful, tall and with the same coloring. I got a little more height than my Mom’s side of the family (not much) but my light eyes and high cheekbones are courtesy of Sweden (so my thanks to that country).

With the mental image of my family members it was rather easy to envision the hero of new author Gina Conkle‘s novel Norse Jewel. Hakan is a Svea chieftain close to his king who wants nothing more than to retire from raiding and work his farm and be with his son. That his king continues to make demands on his time and his grasping ex-wife will not release his son Erik to him as dictated by Norse custom continues to rankle. When he stumbles across the wounded Frankish maid at a slave auction, the last thing he wants is a young, pretty woman stirring up trouble. But it’s clear she’s in danger from the group of Danes trying to buy her, and his instincts have him purchasing her as a thrall, a slave, to work in his home.

The Viking invasion routes during this time period – rather easy to imagine a Frankish maid ending up as a slave in a chieftain’s house, isn’t it?

Helena cannot believe that she’s at the mercy of the tall Norse warrior. She was living her life in her small Frankish village as the daughter of the apothecary and betrothed to a local scholar. The wound on her face is from one of the Danes attempting to cut away the purse around her neck holding the jewel that was to be her dowry, but her intended husband ran to safety when the raiders arrived in the village and she was snatched. Her knowledge of some Norse makes her useful to this man who is clearly a chieftain, but he wants nothing to do with her, beyond mending and cooking.

While Hakan discovers quickly that she cannot cook, he also discovers that Helena is actually an incredibly intelligent woman of many talents, bringing order to his homestead and tremendous wealth to him. As their feeling for one another grows deeper, the barrier of his ex-wife’s betrayal combined with political elements around the king continue to be barriers they cannot cross. Helena has the added mental block that she is truly Hakan’s slave and while she does love him, her self-respect will not allow her to yield to him until he can show her that he truly cares for, preferably by giving her freedom to return home.

Norse mythology and culture are becoming increasingly popular as indicated by movies like Thor and the BBC drama Vikings.

I thought this was a terrific historical romance – at almost exactly 200 pages this had the feel of a category romance in terms of the romance part of the plot, yet Conkle delivers such depth of well-researched information that you feel you are reading a longer book set in the time period, complete with complex religious and cultural conflicts our hero and heroine encounter. Both characters are highly sympathetic (and stubborn) but the feeling between them is very real, and I love that the author has them becoming friends first even though the frisson of attraction is always present.

The actual sex comes pretty late in the book and it was a little bit of a closed-door scene (you only get to see the hot foreplay) which did not make me happy. Yet I was so thrilled they were finally confessing their feelings to each other that I was okay with it, which honestly indicates how great Conkle’s writing is because normally I’d be pretty pissed about being denied by detailed sexy times. This lack of explicitness nevertheless makes this novel highly appropriate for readers who like their romance a little more on the sweet side.

What I cannot figure out is if there will be a series based on some of the characters introduced in this book! *arrgggh* Considering that the political situation continues to be unresolved, and that I want to know what happens to Hakan’s best friend Sven who has seemingly betrayed him, I feel like Entangled would be crazy not to pursue at least a second related book. Yet, no indication exists on Goodreads or Conkle’s website to hint that there will be other books related to this one, so I’m going to have to keep my fingers crossed.

Erik Northman, the millenia-old vampire in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books (and in its companion TV series, True Blood) is a Viking living in modern times, but with an age-old ruthlessness

There is no denying a cultural upswing in interest around Norse culture. Thor and it’s upcoming sequel prove the box office loves Norse gods and mythology and the BBC series Vikings (a Canadian-Irish drama) was picked up by the History Channel proving so popular there is going to be a second season (it’s also on Hulu and I have it in my queue to watch). Yet Norse historical romance is still in such an early stage of development in the world of romance that there doesn’t seem to be a dedicated Goodreads list. You can find the “Best Viking Books” listing Norse Jewel alongside erotica with a Norse theme and historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell. More than a few of these books (particularly the romances) have time-travel or paranormal themes, featuring Vikings living in the present (think of Eric Northman from Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series) rather than plunging readers into the world of the past.

Gina Conkle’s Norse Jewel not only adds a wonderful novel to the world of Viking romance but it also showcases a vibrant new voice to the world of historical fiction with her layered world, well-written characters and plots that demand more than one book to flesh out. My fingers are crossed that more books will be on there way soon since I find this writer a bargain at a mere $2.99.

Happy Reading! 🙂

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