Collections are a notoriously hard sell in the publishing world, especially if you haven’t got the household name to back you, but sometimes you come across books that turn that notion on its head. Christine Morgan’s The Raven’s Table – Viking Stories is one such collection, with tales and saga-esque poetry set in the Norse world, it’s a feast of Vikings and thralls, gods and goddesses, curses and cults.
In my previous post I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology which, despite its glorious cover, felt over-indulgent on the author’s part, and left me feeling… meh. The Raven’s Table does all the things Gaiman’s collection should have but didn’t. With each tale, Christine Morgan drops you into the character(s)’s world without preamble. There’s no over-explaining of the mythos ‒ it just is. It’s this type of storytelling that allows the reader to be fully immersed.
The Raven’s Table has eighteen tales and poems within this collection, four of which are originals. Don’t let the ‘reprint’ status give you pause, though, as each story is a vicious delight of blood and gore, war and betrayal, monsters and mayhem. It’s clear from the first story that Morgan knows her mythos, giving the reader insight into the lesser-known aspects of the superstitions and rites of Norse mythology. There’s a depth to each of the tales that creates layers you don’t often see in storytelling, and boy does she nail her imagery.
Morgan takes poetic licence with her narrative, often melding stanzas in the form of storytelling by the characters within her tales, which only reinforces the saga-esque feel of the book. Morgan is the skald who has sat you around the fire, retelling the places she’s been, the things she’s seen, and giving warning to those who dare defy the gods.
Not one story is alike, although Morgan’s narrative-style is the thread that binds. There are some truly beautiful turns of phrase in the stories, pieces that will transport the reader entirely into the fear of a thrall, the struggle to stare down a Valkyrie, the absolute certainty that monsters are real. When stories start with: ‘Men died screaming.’, you know you’re in for some bloodied fun.
It’s hard to pick a favourite from the collection, but I’ll give the top five of those that have stuck with me now that I’ve finished the book: The Fate Spinners, The Barrow Maid, Njord’s Daughter, With Honey Dripping, and Sven Bloodhair. That was a tough top five to pick, I have to say… so I’ll sneak in At Ragnarok, the Goddesses.
I mentioned earlier that The Raven’s Table did all that Gaiman’s Norse Mythology didn’t, and I stand by that. If you’re wanting to read seriously impressive Viking tales that cover the gamut of the Norse mythos without that didactic feel, then ignore Gaiman’s offering and instead pick up Christine Morgan’s collection – you won’t be disappointed.
Fair warning, for those who don’t like blood and gore and sex in all its forms, this might not be the book for you. For the rest of you – it’s the best collection I’ve read in a long while.
On a Goodreads scale I give it five stars.