Way Of The Waves by Janina Ramirez

The Blurb On The Back:

Alva clings to her sleeping wolf as the Viking longship pitches and rolls over the North Sea’s crashing waves.  Soon she will reveal herself as a secret stowaway, but only when there’s no chance of turning back.  This is her opportunity to put her shield maiden spirit to the test – exploring strange new ands, solving mysteries, and most importantly finding her father … 

You can order Way Of The Waves by Janina Ramirez from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s several weeks after RIDDLE OF THE RUNES.  12-year-old Alva’s uncle Magnus is part of a large group of Kilsgard men tasked with returning the Anglo-Saxon monk and his brother to Lindisfarne to receive the agreed ransom, followed by a little raiding and trading before returning home.  Alva decides that she and her pet wolf, Fenrir, will stow away with them in order to try and find out what’s happened to her father, Bjorn, as the family has had no further news about him since learning he was in Francia.

But neither Magnus nor the rest of the the crew are delighted to find Alva on their ship and half way across the North Sea they hit a terrible storm.  Separated from the other ships and considerably off-course, they find themselves near Jorvik, which is under the control of the tyrannical King Ragnall and where they meet Father Michael and his helper, 12-year-old orphan Alfred.  

Father Michael tells them that not only was Bjorn there, but he became caught up in a vicious rivalry between Ragnall and Queen Aethelflaed over control of Jorvik and the surrounding lands. To find out what happened to Bjorn, Magnus and Alva must follow in his footsteps, but doing so risks incurring the rage of two monarchs …

The second in Janina Ramirez’s historical mystery series for children aged 9+ (atmospherically illustrated by David Wyatt) uses real people from the early 10th century but Alva’s reason for going to England makes little sense and undermines the first book, the plot meanders with the mystery not arriving until the final quarter and being solved too quickly and the writing clunks with modern day expressions such that I don’t think I’ll read on.

My issues with this book started right at the beginning because one of the big themes in RIDDLE OF THE RUNES was how the mystery element and the clues laid by Bjorn were designed to bring Alva, her mother and Marcus together as a family and the book ends with Alva and her mother having more of an understanding of each other.  The beginning of WAY OF THE WAVES undoes all that by having Alva convince a shipbuilder to help her and Fenrir stow away without leaving any message for her mother and I found that pretty selfish and fully sympathised with Magnus’s furious reaction.  There’s also little of the relationship between Magnus and Alva that dominates the first book – they don’t have much in the way of conversation and spend most of the book going from contrived event to contrived event in a way that lacked any real sparkle or warmth for me.  

What bothered me most though was that I didn’t understand why Alva thought she’d learn about what happened to her father by going to England when in RIDDLE OF THE RUNES she’s expressly told that he was last in Francia.  It simply didn’t make sense to me and threw me off for the rest of the book because it makes everything that happens seem so contrived.  This isn’t helped by the fact that the writing is very clunky with Ramirez shoe-horning in plot developments and characters in a way that never felt natural to me and such that you could see where the next plot development was coming from and what would happen.

The introduction of Alfred didn’t really bring much to the story and the on-again-off-again tension between them over Fenrir also didn’t work for me because it’s so manufactured.  In fact, Fenrir seems more like a dog than a wolf in this book – there’s no sense of danger (for all that other characters tell us how scared they are of him) and Fen doesn’t have a huge amount to do, rendering him a gimmick.

Ramirez uses the real monarchs Ragnall and Aethelflaed in the book and does provide a broad brush sense of each of them, which should interest younger readers but it’s a shame that the publisher (Oxford University Press) didn’t think to add a little section explaining more about them as I think kids would get a kick out of it and it would help tie the book to the period more.  She also does a good job of conveying Viking Jorvik (modern day York) complete with the basis for the current Minster. However there are too many modern day idioms in the text (notably Alva keeps saying “okay”, which drove me nuts) and I have problems with Alva wanting to be a detective when it’s such a modern concept that didn’t really exist in Viking times.  And it’s not that I demand complete historic accuracy in fiction (and especially in children’s fiction) but there does need to be a feel for the time and there are big chunks where this book just doesn’t have it.  It’s a shame because there are sections where I think she could have made some interesting points about the time (e.g. at one point Alva intercedes for a character who would be executed by suggesting that he be enslaved and, in the current environment, it would have been good to have had some kind of recognition about how normal that was at the time).

David Wyatt’s moody, threatening illustrations (particularly one of Ragnall) are easily the best thing about the book as they convey a great sense of character and danger.  Unfortunately I found that Ramirez’s writing clunked and for a book that bills itself as a Viking mystery, the mystery element only arrives in the last quarter and is then quickly (and obviously) resolved.  The rest of the book is little more than a plodding road trip of Magnus, Alva, Fen and Alfred going from place to place.  To be frank, there just wasn’t anything here to grab me and despite the set-up for a third book, I don’t think I’ll be reading on.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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