Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Varangian Blog Tour and Review

The Varangian by Bruce MacBain

Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Blank Slate Press
eBook & Print; 341 Pages
Series: Odd Tangle-Hair Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

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The third volume of Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga finds our hero in Golden Miklagard (Constantinople), posing as an ambassador from the Grand Prince of Rus. But his real mission is to assassinate his former master, Harald the Ruthless, who has now risen high in the Emperor’s Varangian Guard. Odd is dazzled by the brilliance of the Byzantine capital and its beating heart--the Great Palace, with the astonishing Throne of Solomon that levitates above the heads of kneeling courtiers.

Here, Odd will meet Constantine Psellus, an ambitious young bureaucrat who mentors him in the ways of the court. He will be drawn into an intrigue that involves the Empress Zoe, who spends her days brewing vats of perfume, and John the Guardian of Orphans, the powerful and sinister eunuch who schemes to advance his family. And Odd will fall in love with Selene, an alchemist’s daughter, who supports herself by gambling in the waterfront taverns.

Finally, after a hard-fought campaign against the Saracens in Sicily and the overthrow of an Emperor, Odd reaches the pinnacle of power and believes he has vanquished his enemy Harald once and for all. Then disaster overwhelms him.

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My Take:

It is with a bit of sadness that I begin this review of the third - and I believe the final - installment of Odd Tangle-Hair's epic tale. First of all, I have to point out just how much I love the covers of these books. After looking back over my previous reviews I was again struck with the beauty of the book covers. 

Odd finally makes it to Constantinople in the guise of an ambassador of Rus and is introduced to a whole new set of royal intrigues. Of course he makes some new friends, some new enemies, and encounters some old friends and enemies as well. Constantine Psellus becomes a mentor for Odd - and it is a good thing for Odd, since this new royal court is on a whole new level of strange and complicated. There are some really interesting and dangerous characters that Odd must maneuver around - including his old master, Harald the Ruthless. He is still ruthless and generally not to be trusted. Harald has aligned himself with John the Guardian of Orphans, who wields an unusual amount of power at court and displays frightening and disturbing personality traits.  

For once, Odd will find love with the adventurous and rebellious Selene, the daughter of an alchemist. As usual, things don't go as planned and Odd is sent off to fight in yet another war with Harald and pretty much anything that can go wrong does go wrong.

Odd's travels throughout the three novels have taken him all over the world. The reader gets to follow his misadventures with the added bonus of  learning a great deal about historical events and people and cultures. I think this third book in the series does a great job of wrapping up Odd's story --- although I admit that I would love to read more about his life. Odd is an engaging and fun character who is smart, curious and likable. His life is often hard and tragic, but never, ever boring.


I really enjoyed The Varangian, but it can be hard to read about all the hardship one of your favorite character must endure.  I really love the attention to historical detail and the seemingly effortless manner in which MacBain explains actual history within Odd's story. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Odd discovers Homer and compares his epic tales with the familiar tales of Odin and the other Norse Gods - and the fact that Odd is now traveling through some of the same places that Homer writes about. The various epics being discussed within the telling of Odd's epic tale is just so much fun.

Odd's story is thoroughly appealing and would be a wonderful introduction to readers hesitant to read Norse or Greek mythology -- I mean who could resist reading more after encountering them within Odd's epic tale?

I wholeheartedly and without hesitation recommend all three of the novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair saga. 


Praise for The Varangian

"Thoroughly effective at explaining the intriguing and highly complex circumstances of the time period, Macbain’s (The Ice Queen, 2015, etc.) book shines in a way that only historical fiction can. Who needs King Jon Snow in Game of Thrones when one can get a glimpse of the historically real and undeniably sinister John the Guardian of Orphans? Even the most terrifying dragon pales in comparison to the sheer horror of a society so comfortable with castration. As the story ventures outside of Constantinople, the reader is treated to a plot that can only be described as epic … a highly entertaining Viking adventure." - Kirkus Reviews

"This is the third and final of Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair novels. All three have been spellbinding in their storytelling, though this one may be the best. Odd’s journey takes us around the Mediterranean and eastern European world, and all the way north back to Iceland. The characters are wonderful, the story intriguing, the combat real but never superfluous, and Odd makes for the perfect protagonist. Highly recommended." - Historical Novel Society

"Written by a historian with deep understanding of the cultures, peoples, and languages of this world, The Varangian speaks with an authoritative and compelling voice that can equally present naval battles decided by Greek Fire and court intrigue culminating in advancement to lucrative rank or in mutilation and blinding. This is a masterfully written and suspenseful tale that weaves fictional characters into the dramatic story of eleventh-century Byzantium and ambitious women and men, some home grown and some drawn from afar, who aimed to profit from an empire of legendary wealth and splendor." - Emily Albu, Professor of Medieval and Byzantine Studies, UC, Davis

"The Varangian is the third and final volume of Bruce Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga, and like the first two entries, it is as compelling and wild a ride as historical fiction offers. Macbain brilliantly weaves in his vast knowledge of 11th century Viking and Byzantine life with a great storyteller’s ability to drive the plot forward, a plot filled with intrigue, violence, betrayal, and lust." - Barton Kunstler, author of The Hothouse Effect

“Detailed and vivid writing.” -Albert Noyer, author of the Getorius and Arcadia Mysteries

About the Author

03_Bruce MacBainBruce Macbain holds degrees in Classics and Ancient History and was formerly an Assistant Professor of Classics at Boston University. He decided to stop writing scholarly articles (which almost no one read) and turn his expertise to fiction—a much more congenial medium. His previous novels include two mysteries set in ancient Rome (Roman Games, The Bull Slayer) and the first two novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair series (Odin’s Child, The Ice Queen).

 For more information, please visit Bruce MacBain's website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 20
Kick Off at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, March 21
Review at Rainy Day Reviews
Friday, March 24
Interview at Dianne Ascroft's Blog
Sunday, March 26
Excerpt at T's Stuff
Wednesday, March 29
Guest Post at The Writing Desk
Friday, March 31
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Tuesday, April 4
Review at Book Nerd
Friday, April 7
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Tuesday, April 11
Review at A Book Geek
Thursday, April 13
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, April 18
Excerpt at Books, Dreams, Life
Wednesday, April 19
Guest Post at Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots
Thursday, April 27
Review at Broken Teepee

Giveaway

To win a copy of The Varangian by Bruce Macbain, please enter via the Gleam form below. Three copies are up for grabs!

Rules
 – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 27th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
 – Giveaway is open to residents in the US & Canada only.
 – Only one entry per household.
 – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
 – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. The Varangian




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