Comparable in plot to classic serialized sword-and-sorcery sagas such as Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Joel H. Hinrichs’ door-stopper of an adventure fantasy features Ordowahl—the ninth son of Stegnwahl, King of Nordweg—who, having recently come of age, is exiled from his land because his brothers are intimidated by his size, strength, and intelligence. All alone in the world, with just his trusty steed Hammerfoot, Ordowahl—a devout Christian—sets out on a spiritual journey of self-discovery that will test him in ways he never thought possible.
Set in a pseudo-11th century Europe (one where magic subtly exists), the giant prince is faced with numerous moral dilemmas, including whether to kill Vikings who are ruthlessly sacking a seaside community, and understanding how to defeat a seemingly unbeatable knight powered by black magic. But his biggest test comes in the form of Lady Janalei , the beautiful daughter of a count—“like iron wrapped in velvet” —who has vowed never to marry.
The novel’s strengths are many: excellent character development, a deeply philosophical theme, and a focus on setting throughout. But while these elements undoubtedly deepen this novel’s impact, the story suffers from one major flaw: the lack of proficient editing, which leads to a narrative that feels bloated and exceedingly slow in places. At 462 pages, this novel could have been trimmed of 100 pages of tangential storylines (such as the sequence where Ordowahl and Janalei must pass judgement on a conflict involving a farmer’s bull that impregnated a neighbor’s cow), which would have dramatically improved pacing, tension level, and overall readability.
Uneven pacing and serpentine narrative aside, however, there is much to like about this novel. Hinrichs has created a pair of authentic and endearing characters and has set the table for some potentially entertaining sequels. Readers who enjoy historical fiction à la Stephen R. Lawhead and Guy Gavriel Kay will find rewards here.