Discovered among Rosemary Sutcliff 's papers after her death in 1992, Sword Song is the swashbuckling epic of a young Viking swordsman, banished from his home for unintentionally killing a man, who takes up a new life as a mercenary.
About the Author
Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) wrote dozens of novels for young readers, including the award-winning trilogy set in Roman Britain, The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers. Shortly before her death, she was awarded the CBE, one of Britain's most prestigious honors.
Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions for
In Sword Song, as in all of Sutcliff's novels,
there is a strong sense of place. Cite specific scenes in the novel that define the setting.
Discuss what is going on in Norway to cause
Bjarni's grandfather to send him to join his
brother, Gram, in Rafnglas. How does Gram feel responsible for Bjarni?
Bjarni holds the holy man under in the horsepond for kicking his dog. The man drowns,
and Bjarni is summoned to appear before Rafn the Chief. The Chief says to him, "Time enough to learn that in this land-take the men of the
White Christ walk safe." [p. 2] Who are the men of the White Christ? Contrast this religion to the Viking gods that Bjarni worships.
Explain how Bjarni makes Rafn the Chief an
"oath-breaker." [p. 3] How does Bjarni learn the meaning of an oath?
Bjarni is banished from Rafnglas for five years.
He goes to Dublin, where he is robbed of the silver that his brother gave him for his journey.
How does Bjarni wind up on the Sea Witch with Onund Treefoot? Discuss the sea battle that Bjarni is involved with on board the Sea
Witch. Explain the concept of the "share-out."
Bjarni is involved in a fight to save his dog,
Hugin. Onund says to him, "There is a time for battle and a time for peace and Sea Witch has no place among her crew for a man who cannot tell the one from the other." [p. 82]
Discuss how Bjarni should have handled the incident. Why does Bjarni say that Onund is the person that made Hugin "unfit for sacrifice"? [p. 82]
Why does the Lady Aud choose Bjarni as a rower on the Fionoula for the Easter faring?
Explain why Bjarni feels it necessary to tell the Lady Aud that he doesn't intend to follow her god. Describe the strangeness that Bjarni experiences on board the Fionoula.
Bjarni returns to Rafnglas after five years.
Much has happened to him, and much has happened in Rafnglas. Discuss the changes to both. The Chief asks Bjarni to tell them the tale of his five years. What will Bjarni tell?
What will he leave out from his story?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another of Sutcliff's History of Britain stories - this one is Norse settlements. It has a link to the Dolphin Ring series - I need to look at Dawn Wind to see if this follows. Bjarni certainly does get in trouble for his dogs!
Sword Song is Rosemary Sutcliff's last book. There is a note from her executor that states that Sutcliff always went through three drafts when writing a story, and was partway through the second draft of this one when she died suddenly in 1992. Her agent and editor got this ready for publication, and I think they did a fair job. Sixteen-year-old Bjarni Sigurdson is forced to leave his settlement after he accidentally kills a man. With nowhere to go, he hires himself out as a mercenary to the Viking lords who raided the islands off the west coast of Ireland. We follow his story as he gets involved in the rivalries of clan chiefs and their daring sea battles. Bjarni must wait five years before he can return home ¿ but when the time comes, does he really want to return? Where is home for a mercenary warrior? I really enjoyed this story despite its flaws. Sutcliff doesn't manipulate the practices of the time that offend modern sensibilities (like arranged marriages, the mock captured-bride hunt, the realities of warfare, etc.) to make them more palatable to us. She shows things the way they were, and her characters live within their social customs in a realistic way. I think this is what sets Sutcliff apart from other writers who do historical fiction aimed at a YA audience: Sutcliff's actually live in their historical period. They aren't just modern characters with modern ideas who are merely dressed up in period clothes. I did find it odd that the love interest only comes in at the very end. Usually Sutcliff weaves that thread throughout the entire story. It made the tale less cohesive and a bit episodic, and I kept waiting for the girl to show up. But I suppose there was really no believable, workable way to do that. As is usual in Sutcliff stories, the relationship starts out as one of mutual help and develops slowly. I was also impressed with her handling of Bjarni's religion, as he is torn between the old gods Odin and Thor and the new god, the "White Christ." Sutcliff shows us how Bjarni comes to realize the import of his choice, that there is more to it than just being baptized to increase one's marketability among the hiring chieftains. Bjarni eventually becomes a "prime-signed Christian," which was a term I'd never heard before. Apparently it was a preliminary step to full baptism, a way for a man to indicate he was not hostile to the White Christ though he still called on his pagan gods. In the story Bjarni does seriously consider Christianity, but eventually decides to remain pagan. It's a sensitive and realistic picture of the religious divisions of the time as they affected ordinary people. And for any Sutcliff fans who are wondering, yes, the famous flawed emerald dolphin ring does show up in this one, right near the end. This little heirloom is a common thread loosely linking the characters through generations in Sutcliff's other historical novels, and it *is* fun to see it pass through various hands in a string of novels. The dolphin ring... ah yes, we know it well! Sword Song isn't the best of Sutcliff's work, understandably, but it's quite good. New readers should start with the more polished books like The Eagle of the Ninth, The Lantern Bearers, or my personal favorite, Warrior Scarlet. But really, there aren't any bad Sutcliffs. Fans of historical fiction will recognize in Sutcliff a kindred spirit. Recommended!
I read this book as a child. It was so powerful of a story that I cried, and after reading it again recently I felt sorrow all the same. Enjoyable read.
it was a gerat book it's all you can say.