It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for the latest book from Christina Courtenay, Whispers of the Runes, and sharing my review: published by Headline Review on 24th June, it’s now available for kindle, in paperback and as an audiobook via Amazon in the UK and US. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
I’ve mentioned before that I read my first book by Christina way back in 2013, and always love her writing. Although I did initially wonder whether the Vikings would be entirely my cup of tea, I’ve now read and reviewed both the earlier books in this series – Echoes of the Runes (you’ll find that review here) and The Runes of Destiny (review here) – and thought they were quite wonderful. Don’t be put off for an instant by the mention of “series” – although there are links you will be aware of (and appreciate) if you’ve read them all, every book is can be enjoyed as a standalone. And I was really looking forward to another excursion back to the ninth century…
Time is no barrier for a love that is destined to be.
She couldn’t be sure that she had travelled through time … but deep down she just knew.
And her only way back had just disappeared.
When jewellery designer Sara Mattsson is propelled back to the ninth century, after cutting herself on a Viking knife she uncovers at an archaeological dig, she is quick to accept what has happened to her. For this is not the first Sara has heard of time travel.
Although acutely aware of the danger she faces when she loses the knife – and with it her way to return to her own time – this is also the opportunity of a lifetime. What better way to add authenticity to the Viking and Anglo-Saxon motifs used in her designs?
As luck has it, the first person Sara encounters is Rurik Eskilsson, a fellow silversmith, who is also no stranger to the concept of time travel. Agreeing that Sara can accompany him to Jorvik, they embark on a journey even more perilous than one through time. But Fate has brought these two kindred spirits together across the ages for a reason…
“A journey even more perilous than one through time” – goodness, yes, it most certainly is. But what I really, really loved about this book is that it’s all tremendous fun too – a quite wonderful developing love story between two characters I really took to my heart (and who both know a little more about travelling through time than they’re ready to reveal), lots of edge-of-the seat excitement from outset (and even more while travelling with the lawless Great Heathen Army), some wonderful glimpses of Jorvik in Viking times (and York in the present day), and a story that grips you and moves at tremendous pace while whisking you away to the world the author creates.
If you should ever find a Viking seax, don’t – for goodness’ sake – cut your finger and read out loud the inscription on the blade. That’s where Sara’s problems begin, when she finds herself transported to a beach in the North of England in the ninth century. Rurik has just been shipwrecked on the same beach on his voyage to Britain to ply his trade in Jorvik – the burial mound that Sara was investigating was the one for his perished shipmates – and they decide to stick together and head off cross-country. Sara really doesn’t have any other options – despite a desperate search, the seax is lost, along with any possibility of making a return journey through time.
But there are other elements at play too – Sara’s already aware that she’s by no means the first person to be taken back through time (she’s a friend of Linnea in the last book), and Rurik too has his reasons to be familiar with a concept other ordinary Vikings might understandably struggle with. But these are troubled times, and they find themselves captured by the forces of the Great Heathen Army roaming the British Isles in the time of Alfred the Great – acquiring a faithful dog in Beowulf in the aftermath of a massacre they stumble across – and become part of a succession of settlements as they hope for the opportunity to finally make their way to Jorvik, where Sara has an idea about how she might just be able to find a way to return to her former life.
The way the author recreates everyday life in Viking times is just wonderful. The research that must have gone into the writing is amply evident, but it’s used so cleverly to bring the era vividly to life – always authentic and believable, with every small detail helping to build a world that you entirely inhabit and experience with all your senses. I liked the fact that both Sara and Rurik were silversmiths – and learned a tremendous amount about the way they set up their workplace and plied their trade without the modern-day help of blowtorches and magnifying glasses. I learned a lot about day-to-day life too – I already knew the life of a thrall was no picnic, but I didn’t know they were sometimes sacrificed, and that’s a particularly difficult one for present day Sara to get her head around.
The story is absolutely cracking – fast paced, with so many moments of real danger – with some of the most wonderfully well-drawn characters, both evil and benevolent. And through it all, the romance between Sara and Rurik builds – it feels hopeless, and really tears at your heart, with a few perfect tender moments, on the way to an unexpected ending (a real “bravo!” moment) that was everything I could have possibly wished for. The secrets between them cause considerable problems: there might have been a few times when a little more honesty and disclosure wouldn’t have gone amiss, but then we wouldn’t have had the story.
I’ve always enjoyed the author’s writing – and if pushed, I think I have to say that in this book it’s better than ever. It’s important when reading a time slip story that you’re able to suspend your disbelief of the basic premise – and this was a book I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation in believing. There’s an essential lightness about the writing – with a lot of gentle humour – but no glossing over the less palatable parts of ninth century life. I particularly liked too the brief return to the present day, for the most essential of reasons – it was something a little different to see a Viking experiencing life in modern-day York.
Whatever might draw you to this book – the history, the notion of time travel, the romance – I absolutely guarantee that it won’t disappoint you in any way. I really loved it – and recommend it very highly.
With thanks to Christina and Rachel, I’m delighted to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a signed copy of Whispers of the Runes plus a pair of silver Viking style earrings (open internationally).
Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
Terms and Conditions Worldwide entries welcome. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
About the author
Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014). Whispers of the Runes (time travel published by Headline 24th June 2021) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).