Book Review: Pagan Child
Author: Warwick Halse Hill
Reviewer: Alan Leddon
Publisher: Saga Press
Published: June 2015
Where to get it: http://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Child-Warwick-Hill-Jnr/dp/0986497258
Pagan Child is the compelling tale of how Christian Christiansonn, a Danish nobleman, brings Ulf home to Denmark. Twelve year old Ulf is an heir of some import in Lithuania, a nation currently being ravaged by an order of corrupt and brutal “Christian” knights. The novel follows the flight of Christian, Ulf, and Christian’s men from Lithuania to Denmark, followed by Christian and Ulf meeting the Pope in Avignon and also travelling to the icier north. Along the way, the reader learns of the tender love Christian has for his family, friends, and servants. The reader encounters the darkness in Christian in several instances, but likewise sees his strong sense of loyalty and personal honor. The growing relationship between Christian and Ulf is shown, and forms one of the more beautiful parts of the work.
A persistent theme in the book is the conflict between brutally aggressive “Christians” and not-so-passive Pagans. The Teutonic Knights have come to Lithuania with orders to convert or kill all Pagans in the nation. This theme is the backdrop for much of the intrigue and most of the battles in the story.
The story is told in first person by Christian. The narrator has a keen eye for detail, missing little in his environment. The narrator has some secrets, and these are revealed with great subtlety as the story progresses. Discerning an important fact about Ulf’s father, for instance, requires a leap of intuition on the part of the reader. This hint of secrecy contributes nicely to the overall atmosphere of the book, which is full of adventure and intrigue at all times.
As the book progresses, a large number of references are made to sexual activity, both between consenting adults and between teenagers. These are handled tastefully, and any crudeness is entirely in character. This is, of course, a part of the book where the reality of the setting differs from the reality of the modern Western world. The frankness is refreshing.
We were relieved to find two traits in this work. First, the characters were three dimensional and did not fall into the annoying category of “long ago people who think just like modern people.” The motivations, actions, and feelings of the characters did not mirror modern soap opera characters, as is so often the case in modern novels about historical places. Second, the dialogue seemed natural, not stilted or artificial.
Pagan Child is a moderately-fast-paced tale set in the winter of 1344 CE. The story explores a number of themes important to the characters (and their real-world counterparts). With well-detailed scenes, realistic conversations, attention to realism, and the requirement that the reader think through clues, it is a very enjoyable book that most readers will love. Pagan Child and all of Mr. Hill’s future works are highly recommended.