A young Viking warrior yearns to avenge his father’s murder and, as he matures, escape his bloody past.
Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura first caught my attention because it is a manga (Japanese comic) about Vikings, which I thought could be a fun combination. After reading the first volume, it became apparent that a great deal of research went into establishing some degree of historical accuracy. Several of the main characters are based on historical figures, and informative details about the daily life, warfare, and customs of 11th century Scandinavia are plentiful throughout the story. The author even made a research trip to Iceland before beginning the project to collect visual references and learn about the culture of the region.
The beginning of the story is an action-packed revenge yarn filled with cunning machinations of strategy, humor, and highly stylized battles. The premise is that the child Thorfinn witnesses the Viking commander Askeladd kill his father, who was an exceptional but retired warrior. Years later, Thorfinnn has grown in to a formidably deadly knife-wielding teenager and serves Askeladd by taking on his most dangerous and violent tasks. Thorfinn’s sole motivation for his servitude is to earn the right to challenge Askeladd to a duel and presumably kill the man who murdered his father.
This series was originally published in a weekly manga publication aimed at teenage boys. Before the saga had been in production for a year, Yukimura decided that keeping the weekly schedule was too tough, so after a brief hiatus, the story resumed in a monthly publication aimed at younger adult men. This slower schedule shows in the art work as it grows in detail and realism as the volumes progress. The more mature storytelling really starts to shine by the third volume (no spoilers), when the lives of several characters dramatically change direction, and the story takes on a much more introspective tone, questioning the meanings of freedom and fulfillment. My recommendation is to try the first volume, and if you find it at least passably entertaining, stick with it through volume three, and you will be rewarded with a genuine saga that follows characters through years of compelling growth and change. Having finished volume 7 and eagerly awaiting volume 8, I look back at where this adventure started, and I’m impressed with the direction the artist chose, crafting a tale far richer than projected in the first volume.