Book review: Square Sails and Dragons, by Celia Lund

Square Sails and Dragons is the well-crafted début novel by American poet Celia Lund. The book is a work of fiction based around real events, and the cast of characters includes some very familiar names.

Square Sails and Dragons follows the travels of Leifur Eiríksson from his home in Greenland to Norway, and back again. Along the way he and his crew get into a variety of adventures and challenging situations – especially involving the Norwegian king’s new religion: Christianity.

Celia Lund has an unusual writing style which gives away her background as a poet and makes following her words a pleasure; even if what she is writing about happens to be dull.

Square Sails and Dragons is not a dull book, however, and the story is engaging throughout.

Having said that, I feel some readers may be disappointed by the end of the book if they have not been forewarned about its content. On the other hand, I also feel that some of those who might enjoy the book most might never consider reading it without prior knowledge of its content.

The point I am getting at is that it is not what it looks like.

The colourful front cover with dragon-headed Viking ship, the book’s name, the inclusion of famous real Vikings, and the direct link to the sagas might all serve to conjure up an image of a blood-soaked adventure of murder, revenge and honour in the face of fire breathing dragons and other mythical creatures of the Norse world.

What the reader actually discovers is a very human story, based on some real people and events, which brings the Vikings to life in a timeless fashion; making their lives, personalities and feelings accessible and appealing like never before. The way the book is written would suit any time period and the characters come across as normal people like you or I (ed. assuming you are normal).

On the subject of names; aside from the familiar characters (who include Eric (Eiríkur) the Red, Leifur Eiríksson and King Harald Fairhair of Norway), some of the names seemed to be at odds with Viking naming traditions and looked more like modern Scandinavian names than old Norse ones – however I have not researched the topic in the same detail as the author must have done, so am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

I also give the author the benefit of the doubt about the book’s cover, which looks somewhat home-made (mostly the back cover); and that is probably because it is. Celia Lund wrote Square Sails and Dragons partly for fun and partly in loving memory of her late husband and his Nordic ancestry. The cover of the sequel (which will also be reviewed on IceNews) looks much more professional.

It is not every day one reads a Viking novel from Salt Lake City, Utah. It is also not every day that one would recommend such a novel both to Viking enthusiasts and general readers alike. But this is one such book…just be forewarned that it is a slower-paced read which is more about human interactions and emotion than it is about blood and dragons!

Celia Lund’s Square Sails and Dragons (Trafford Publishing, first released 2005, ISBN 1-41205758-2)

Reviewed by Alëx Elliott, IceNews editor

This page picture: front cover of Square Sails and Dragons
Main page photo: Alëx Elliott // IceNews

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