From the Publisher
“An action book if there ever was one.” Kirkus Reviews
“Sutcliff 's careful handling of how a young man, influenced by hero-worship and the force of custom, deals with the difficult choices that lead to maturity is nothing short of masterly. An unexpected and most welcome gift.” The Horn Book
“Whether Sutcliff is calling up the ale houses of Dublin or the battle-torn moors of Scotland, her descriptive language and dialogue transport readers back to a time and place not usually visited in young people's fiction.” Booklist
VOYA - Ann Bouricius
Sword Song takes place in Scotland around 800 A.D. where fifteen-year-old Viking, Bjarni Sigurdson, is accused of murder and banished from his village for five years. Anxious to prove himself a man, Bjarni becomes a hired sword in the band of Onund Treefoot, accompanying him on sea-raids throughout the Scottish islands. Eventually, however, due to his quick temper and his loyalty to his dog, Bjarni must leave. While seeking healing for his hurt dog, Bjarni meets sea-lord Thorstein the Red. Bjarni sells his sword-service to Thorstein and follows him for three years until Thorstein's death in a blood feud. When Bjarni's banishment is over he decides to return to his village, but during a storm at sea his dog falls overboard and Bjarni follows after him. The two of them, nearly drowned, wash up onto the shore where they find themselves cared for by the healer woman, Angharad, who is thought to be a witch. Bjarni stays with Angharad to help her with her farm, and when he that realizes her life is in danger he also realizes he is in love with her. Bjarni returns to his village with Angharad, who will become his wife. Sutcliff's last book, published posthumously, is a grand adventure with lots of non-gratuitous blood and gore-Viking battles not generally being tidy events. The language is rich and complex, reminiscent of the language of early sagas, giving the reader a strong sense of time and place. Through his adventures, readers see Bjarni grow from a hot-headed youth to a capable and mature man. Sword Song should appeal to YAs who want a challenging read. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, For the YA reader with a special interest in the subject, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 1998: Rosemary Sutcliff died in 1992, when the first draft and much of the revision of this manuscript was complete. Her godson, with the help of her editor, prepared the story for publication, and thus we have another excellent historical novel from this acclaimed British writer. Sutcliff returned to the Norsemen for Sword Song, telling of Bjarni, expelled from his settlement when he was 16 years old, wandering the seas and coasts of Western Scotland and Ireland, earning his way as a swordsman. When his five years of banishment are up, he is a man of some hard-earned wisdom, with a woman he cares for to help him build a farm and settle down. A map is provided at the beginning of the book, and I frequently consulted it as I read, with some place names the same as modern ones (Dublin, Orkney). It seems that Bjarni's settlement, Rafnglas, is about where Blackpool is today. The times he lives in are transitional: Norsemen are raiding the coastal settlements, making pacts with or fighting the Picts and others, settling where they can and defending their territory from other Norsemen. It is a time when the Norse gods are competing with the White Christ, and Christianity is winning many converts, including Bjarni, who agrees to the first step of conversion before baptism, being prime-signed by a priest. Knowing Sutcliff's scholarly reputation, we can be assured that she has correct details from this historical period. My only concern, especially for American readers, is that Bjarni's world is so removed from their ownat least British YAs are familiar with the topography of the story and they would have studied the Vikingculture in social studies classes. Still, I believe that the narrative is a strong one, which will appeal to readers who like historical adventure. And the great emotional story here is actually one of a boy and his dog, which certainly has a wide appeal. Booktalking will help, as it always does. KLIATT Codes: JSRecommended for junior and senior high school students. 1997, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sunburst, 272p. map., Ages 12 to 18.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
For causing the death of a holy man, Bjarni Sigurdson is banished from his Norse settlement in northern England at the age of fifteen. Handed only a sword, he is told he may return in five years when he is older and wiser. Bjarni's journeys as a mercenary under several Viking masters~and his path to learning compassion~are the meat of his "song." This was Sutcliff's last book, found substantially complete at her death in 1992. In it she returns to the world of The Shield Ring and believably recreates the sights, sounds, and thought patterns of the Viking age.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Exiled from his home for five years, 16-year-old Bjarni Sigurdson is forced to support himself by becoming a mercenary. Although he is young and untried, he sells his sword service first to Onund Treefoot and later to Thorstein the Red, Norse chieftains who have settled in the islands west of Scotland. With his black dog Hugin in tow, the young man learns the ways of the sea and of warfare as he follows these men in battle and in peace. After five years, he decides to return home, but is cast ashore during a violent storm for one final adventure. The action-filled plot develops coherently and is less episodic than those of many journey tales. Bjarni is an appealing, well-rounded character whose growth and development keep the story focused. His early experiences are those of an adolescent, as he chases after Onund's enemies. Thorstein is involved in more serious matters, making treaties and establishing settlements, and Bjarni, too, becomes more reflective, considering his behavior and his future plans. Sutcliff wrote historical fiction as if she lived it, and this book is no exception. Particularly interesting is her portrayal of the coexistence of the old religion of the Norsemen and that of the White Christ. Although the author did not complete the final draft before her death, this is a well-crafted story that will appeal to sophisticated readers. In places the language is slightly less polished than usual, and Bjarni's final adventure is not as well integrated into the plot as the earlier ones, but still, this is vintage Sutcliff.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA
An action book if there ever was one, found in full draft among the prolific Sutcliff's papers at the time of her death in 1992, and a fine last gift. Set in a time when the British Isles were wild places, with Norsemen and Painted People, Picts and pirates, readers follow the adventures of Bjarni Sigurdson, a teenage boy exiled from his home for five years for accidentally killing a priest of the White Christ. During those five years, he makes himself and his sword available for hire from Dublin and the island of Iona to Barra, Harris, and Kyle. Every page is rich in the detail of living on land and by sea: ship battles, wedding feasts, and the getting of food are side by side with storytelling, the search for god or gods, and the harper's song. Bjarni grows, never abandoning the loyal dog who follows him and waits while he is at sea. A few strong women enrich the story: Lady Aud the Deep-Minded in whose son's service Bjarni learns much, and Angharad, the Welsh healer who becomes his wife. A glorious tale, full of pulse and power. (Fiction. 10-14) .