I’ve always appreciated that “Northlanders” has broadened my horizons when it comes to knowledge about the Vikings. Sure, everyone knows about them marauding throughout Scandinavia, or even heading across the Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland, and (debatably) North America. But the Vikings setting siege to Paris? Now that’s another bit of history I didn’t know about, pre-“Northlanders.”
It’s apt, then, that this story arc is illustrated by Simon Gane, best known in North America for being the artist on the Andi Watson mini-series ,”Paris,” a few years ago. And while I’ll admit that I wasn’t that crazy about his art then, I’m a convert to Gane’s very different depiction of Paris here.
Gane draws “Northlanders” almost like an old time series of engravings: lots of small, fine details and ornate little curls and twists in his lines. Every page has things to study carefully, from the bolts and buckles on shields, to individual curls of hair going down someone’s face. The people are wonderfully expressive here, and I love how Gane draws characters like the cowering Brother Abbo in the boat, or Mads’ sly expression as he talks to the Bishop. Colorist Dave McCaig is in on the action here, using carefully selected color schemes for each page; the green and light blues in the river scenes, for instance, or the red and orange in the opening battle. It not only helps tie the entire page together, but it makes each scene feel like its own component, as we suddenly shift to the black and deep blues for a night time maneuver. And then, when Gane draws a dramatic moment like fire howling down from the heavens, the bright yellows just pop off of the page and right at the reader. This is a gorgeous book.
The story itself isn’t shabby either, for that matter. Free of the need to keep a main character alive throughout the course of the series, this latest “Northlanders” story (like all the others) keeps the question of survival up in the air from start to finish. Mads’ arrogance and determination makes him an interesting person to read about, but it’s hard to tell if he’s creating a path to victory or destruction. And while I thought early on I knew where Abbo’s story was going, with this new chapter I’m happy to see that I have absolutely no idea. It’s also nice to see Wood take small details from the first chapter (the arrival of the Bishop from afar) and make them majors part of the story as it progresses. It’s a nice slow build of plot and tension, and it keeps the reader engaged.
I suppose I could look up the history of Paris online and find out exactly how long the Viking siege would last, but that feels like cheating. And of course, it wouldn’t tell me what happened to Mads and Abbo. Both the big and the small picture feel important in “Northlanders,” and that’s ultimately what makes it such a great story. Wood and Gane make you care about both history and fiction, and the two working together? Well, this could turn out to be one of my favorite “Northlanders” story arcs to date. Who knew besieging Paris could be so much fun?