This sequel to From Bird Mountain by Lyle Fugleberg follows Norse settlers in eastern Canada c.1300 CE as they travel westward over a vast and unknown land.
Inspired by family arriving at the Norse village of Kanata (in modern-day Canada), Sveyin gathers a band to join him in a venture westward to reach the ocean. Posing as traders, they trek through forest and cross rivers, outwit attackers, make friends, and take in outcasts. Eventually they arrive at Tatahuana (near St. Louis, Missouri), a success that Sveyin attributes to the protection of Gitche’ Manitou, the Great Spirit.
During their journey, the Norse amaze and amuse the indigenous with their domesticated pack animals and beards, improved designs for canoe construction, and their victories in every battle with their iron swords. In Tatahuana, they marvel at the advanced civilization but deplore the spectacle of mass sacrifice that accompanies the death of the leader. The indigenous cultures they encounter remain inscrutable to the travelers, by turns impressive, puzzling, or frightening, though Sveyin praises their farming practices and the remarkable physical endurance of the natives.
While the premise is interesting, the story lacks conflict, stakes, or an overarching point to Sveyin’s quest. Characters, distinguishable only by name, demonstrate little dimension or growth. Scenes lack shape, too many of them simply discussions about preparations and directions for travel.
Additionally, the prose is often awkward and the modern dialogue jars (“You stomped over here like you were going to tear us a new one”). Although they travel through an uncharted new land, the setting is at best lightly sketched until the travelers reach Tatahuana. And while Fugleberg’s attempt to spread awareness of little-known historical cultures is laudable, the narrative contains a creeping sense of European superiority and condescension.
Regrettably, the lack of novelistic craft makes for a tedious read overall.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.