Saturday, April 15, 2017

G844 Book Review of the varangian by Bruce Macbain

Name of Book: The Varangian

Author: Bruce McBain

ISBN: 978-1-943075-24-9

Publisher: Blank Slate Press

Part of a Series: Odd Tangle-Hair's Saga

Type of book: Greece, 1037-1042, guard, castration, control, Constantinople, Sicily, war, ruling, siblings, power, peasantry, emperors, empresses, Varangians, eunuchs, secret religions

Year it was published: 2016


The Varangianis the final entry in Bruce Macbain's Odd Tangle-Hair Saga and brings Odd's challenging adventures to a climactic and satisfying finish. On a secret diplomatic mission to the Emperor's court in Miklagard, the Viking's name for Constantinople, Odd meets the members of the fearsome Varangian Guard whose elite Viking members served as the Emperor's personal bodyguards. Harald, his former master and the man he's been sent to murder, now serves among the guards. Court intrigue and imperial dynastic disputes provide the backdrop for the conflict between Odd and Harald. LikeOdin's ChildandThe Ice Queenbefore it, The Varangianis dictated by Odd to a young scribe whose own life is changed by the telling of the tale."


There are quite a few main characters; Odd Tangle-hair is the protagonist who is in late 20s and comes from Iceland to pursue his enemies. He is best described as very resourceful, talented in languages and very well liked. Harald seems to be Odd's frenemy, that is they are friends but then happen to be enemies. Harald is ruthless but at the same time has a little bit of decency and once he gives a vow, he doesn't break it. He is not talented in languages and is forced to rely either on Odd or another man to be his ears. He also is loyal to Yelisaveta and is determined to provide as much comfort as he can. Psellus is a Greek man whom Odd meets and the two become extremely good friends. Psellus is an intellectual and helps teach Odd about the Greek government and so forth. Zoe is an empress that has face of perpetual youth and who is interested in creating lotions as well as perfumes. For her whole life she has been mistreated and been denied a choice in just about everything. Selene will become Odd's wife and she is daring, not afraid of cross dressing. There are plenty of other characters, but it will take a long time to discuss them.


Homeland has strong ties


The story is written in first person narrative, although from time to time, other characters are written in third person point of view. I imagine that if the reader read the previous two books then it offers great continuity because it seems to pick up from where it left off, with Odd landing in Constantinople and trying to pass himself off as a Rus diplomat. Characters from what I think are the previous books are introduced right away, and I feel that the reader is tasked with knowing who they are while very little background information about them is given. The author does write the details about the lands and battles very well and for me the details are not easily forgotten. I also appreciated seeing a little bit of history of my former homeland in the book. I also liked how the story ended with Odd and do wish that some plot points would have been tied up.

Author Information:
(From the book)

Bruce McBain grew up reading histroy and historical fiction and eventually acquired a master's degree in Classical Studies and a doctorate in Ancient History. As an assistant professor of Classics, he taught courses in Late Antiquity and Roman religion and published  a few impenetrable scholaryl monographs, which almost no one read. He eventually left academe and turned to teaching English as a second language, a field he was trained in while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Borneo in the 1960s.

Macbain is also the authro of historical mysteries set in ancient Rome, (Roman Games, 2010, and The Bull Slayer, 2013) feautring Pliny the Younger as his protagonist. Following Odin's Child and The Ice Queen The Varangian is the thrid in his Viking series, Odd Tangle-Hair's Saga.


I previously haven't read the first two books in a series, thus I am new to the protagonist as well as the author. I do strongly feel that the book should be read in continuity with the other two, although I can see instances where it can be a stand-alone. But despite not reading the first two books, I enjoyed the last one and really liked seeing the Greek empire prior to the Crusades, especially learning history of the Byzantium way after 6th century. The history is very unique and memorable, which makes it a positive in my book. What I also enjoyed are the various characters that populate the book from the protagonist himself to Empress Zoe and to Odd's friends and enemies, although in order to fully appreciate the friends and enemies, there is definite need to read the first two books. What I feel I didn't like is that the women weren't drawn in a three dimensional way, and perhaps the author has done it in previous books, but I feel not much is explained about the Viking ways and customs. Towards the end the story speeds up quite a lot and the author leaves us with a cliffhanger about Odd's future.

This is for HFVBT

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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