Reviewed by David Maclaine
The Golden Horn, the first volume in Poul Anderson’s trilogy The Last Viking begins with a prologue that offers a glimpse of its hero Harald Sigurdharson as a precocious three-year-old. At seventeen, Harald survives his first blooding on the battlefield where his older half brother Olaf the Stout dies, and then goes on to exile in Sweden, to Novgorod, to Kiev, and at last to Constantinople. In that great city, known to the Norse as Miklagardh, he grows to manhood as a member of the Varangian Guard, the corps of foreign mercenaries who guard the Byzantine emperor when not away on campaign against his enemies. Along the way Harald grows to the astonishing height of seven feet, becomes a successful war leader, and falls in love with a woman from a prominent Byzantine family. Entangled in the maneuvers for power that turned “Byzantine” into an adjective for complexity, he witnesses much of the folly that started the empire on its downward path. His thoughts keep returning to Norway, though, where he means to press his claim to the throne. By the end of this volume he has done just that, for this is the man who would become known as Harald Hardrede (more commonly spelled Hardrada), one of the three contestants in the events of 1066 that would transform English history.
The heart of the action in The Golden Horn takes place on the horn-shaped peninsula of Constantinople that gives the novel its name, and in the nearby Mediterranean lands where Harald wages war. The swiftly paced novel spares just enough time on character to make this eventful early phase of one of history’s most amazing life stories understandable to readers. (1980, 284 pages)More about The Golden Horn at Amazon.com