From Henry Treece and Kevin Crossley-Holland to Cressida Cowell and Francesca Simon, Viking lives and myths have inspired some of the best books for children. Historian and broadcaster Janina Ramirez has added to the canon of exciting junior historical fiction with her enthralling Viking mystery story.
Central character Alva lives with her mother, uncle and baby brother in the settlement of Kilsgard. She also has a pet wolf Fenrir, named after Loki’s son, rescued as a cub. Her father is away ‘a-Viking’ and much missed by the family who nonetheless accept his deep need for adventure and exploration. The background particulars of Alva’s life are vividly described, home, family and the Viking society; it’s full of detail, yet there is never even the faintest whiff of the library shelf. In the foreground too is a mystery, indeed a Viking crime procedural drama: the peace of the Kilsgard community has been disturbed by the arrival of men from England, on the trail of lost treasure. Moreover one of the men has been kidnapped, which means a ruthless villain or villains are on the loose in the area. Alva investigates with her uncle Magnus – a junior Lewis to his Viking Morse – and both are astonished to discover that her father is not just involved somehow, but actively helping them solve the mystery through a series of secret messages.
The riddle of the runes is a thoroughly satisfying puzzle to untangle and young readers will be completely gripped as they decode the clues with Alva. Core to the story too is a wonderfully strong sense of family, and everyone who reads it will be eager for Alva’s next adventure, hoping that it might see her reunited with her father. David Wyatt’s illustrations, wonderfully atmospheric and detailed, including some double page scenes, are an added treat.