Giles Kristian (1975 – )
Family history (he is half Norwegian) and his storytelling hero, Bernard Cornwell, inspired Giles Kristian to write his first historical novels, the acclaimed and bestselling Raven Viking trilogy Blood Eye, Sons of Thunder and Odin’s Wolves. For his next series, he drew on a long-held fascination with the English Civil War. The Bleeding Land and Brother’s Fury follow the fortunes of a divided family against the complex and brutal backcloth of a conflict that tore this country apart and ended with the killing of a king.
Wings of the Storm (2016)
(The third book in the Rise of Sigurd series)
Fighting in Sweden for an ambitious warlord, Sigurd Haraldarson and his small but loyal band of oathsworn warriors are winning fame and reputation. But Sigurd knows that to take on his hated enemy, the oath-breaker King Gorm – the man who betrayed his father, a man Sigurd has vowed to kill – he must earn riches enough to build an army. Many believe Sigurd to be Odin-favored, but his exploits have drawn the eye of another god, too: Loki the Trickster, and when a daring assassination attempt goes wrong, Sigurd finds himself a prisoner of the powerful Jarl Guthrum. Bound like a slave, his luck having seemingly deserted him, Sigurd is taken to the sacred temple at Ubsola, a place where the blood of human sacrifice flows to appease the gods. It is at Ubsola that Sigurd will face the sacrificial knife. And it is here that he will find a powerful relic, the great spear that was said to have once belonged to Odin himself. With such a spear in his possession Sigurd might now assemble a host strong enough to challenge King Gorm and wreak the revenge he craves. For, like Odin, Sigurd will be the Wild Huntsman tearing through the sky on his fearsome steed, and the rage of his passing will be the sound of wings of the storm.
Every year for seven years i have been fortunate enough to have been wowed by the talent that is Giles Kristian. He burst upon the Historical Fiction scene with Raven: Blood Eye and has not looked back or stumbled once since then. Each and every release has vied for the top spot in my chart for book of the year, winning it several times. He has brought a different dimension to my world of book reviewing, with his (and his Friend Phil Stevens) stunning book trailers, inviting me behind the camera to see the process and be involved. Both are not just talented individuals they are amazingly generous and giving with their time and knowledge of the whole process.
2016 saw the release of not one but the final 2 books in the Rise of Sigurd series, and the rush to the thrilling conclusion of Sigurds revenge. Given we know (if you have read the Raven) who lives to the next phase of the story there is an element of constraint on the author. But for me i have never felt it, and more than many authors Giles keeps you guessing with plot twists and turns, advances and set backs and barely avoided disasters, all within the bounds of what could be expected by real people, ie no super human figures dealing death at a whim.
For much of this series Giles writing has had almost a lyrical saga property to it, a quality that carry’s the reader along, makes you part of the crew and gives you a connection a bond with them. But Wings of the Storm is like the title suggests, the plot is the building tempest of destruction, gaining power and ferocity before it can be aimed at the man who destroyed Sigurd’s family. As such the book is much more explosive, each and every action makes you doubt your knowledge of who might live or die, weather Sigurd can actually realise his ambition to avenge his father, have the fates decided against him, how can a small band of men defeat a king. … Like me you need to read the book to find out, but i can say it is one hell of a dramatic thrilling conclusion, full of axe-wielding , spear throwing vikings, berserkers, sword Danes, Norse and Valkyries, where friends and enemies often find the lines blurring and they all rush headlong driven by Odin and the fates or just the desire for revenge of Sigurd, what ever you believe… the ending is powerful and worth waiting for.
Another year, another contender for the annual book of the year title
Whats next? …….. This master of writing is taking on one of the all time great stories…. Lancelot
- So Giles, now you have hit your ninth book and the end of the series that started it all (well, that world), can you take us back to how this all began for you as a writer (let’s face it you were a successful singer)?
So having been the first member of my family to go to university, I dropped out after only a few months to join a pop group. I was at the University of Central England doing a degree in English Language and Literature because I wanted to become a writer. But I found my brief time at uni difficult. I was an introvert and living off campus didn’t help me assimilate. I was an outsider and I was baffled by the linguistics side of the course. All I wanted to do was write. I wanted to create. Then the band thing happened and blew it all out the water. I went from being a shy, homesick, somewhat confused student to lead singer in a pop group, appearing on Top of the Pops, doing TV and radio every other day, performing in arenas and jetting off to exotic locations to film music videos. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. This was 1995. Gods but the world was a different place back then!
Several hit records and countless incredible experiences later, we called it a day. I wasn’t the only one in the band for whom it had stopped being fun. In truth it was always going to be hard for me, a twenty-one-year-old man into rock and indie, to fully embrace the pop world and the image we were supposed to portray.
We split. I threw myself into song-writing and spent as much time in various recording studios as in my own home. I wrote an album’s worth of pop rock and started again, trying to get myself a record deal as a solo artist. It was a slog, but eventually I got signed and spent a couple of years touring on and off in Europe. It was great fun, but again I found myself confronted with a dilemma. The record company wanted me to record and perform music that my heart just wasn’t into. I had already been there and done that and I just don’t think you can make a success of something you don’t believe in.
Somewhat disenchanted with the music industry, I went back to my other love: writing. I read and enjoyed David Gemmell and Bernard Cornwell and told myself, ‘I can do that.’ (Oh the arrogance of the young). I wrote a 160,000 word novel about the second son of an earl who joins the First Crusade and fights his way to the Holy Land. I don’t think it was very good, which was why I couldn’t get an agent or a publisher to sign it. So…I started again. Again. This time writing a novel about an outcast who is taken from his village by a Viking warband. Having a Norwegian mother, you could say I went back to my roots. I began it in 2004. I got the publishing deal in 2007 when I was living in New York. RAVEN: Blood Eye was released in 2009 and was a bestseller.
It was, as the Beatles said, a long and winding road. But the journey is often what it’s all about. A shame we usually only realise that with hindsight. And funnily enough, my music career is probably what gave me the confidence to believe I could be a published author in the first place. Had I stayed in uni, shy and retiring, learning about language and literature, I may never have ended up writing for a living.
- How much of a personal impact did it have to reach the end of this series? It has always felt like subject you are passionate about.
Wings of the Storm marks the end of a long and, for me at least, wonderfully exciting journey. When I wrote the RAVEN saga I just put the characters aboard and off we went. It was only in The Rise of Sigurd books that I learnt who these characters were, where they came from and what their motivations were. RAVEN: Blood Eye was my half-blood story; Vikings on tour in England, written by, well, a half-English, half-Norwegian man. But the Sigurd books are all Norse. Yes, they’re set in Scandinavia, but more than this I feel these books are soaked to their spines with the heroic warrior ethos and the storytelling culture that we associate with bands of Viking adventurers. I honestly don’t feel I could write a more Viking tale than this. I’ll miss my motley crew! But perhaps we will journey together again one day.
- Given everything you have put into this series, including the amazing book trailers, who has been your favourite character across the two Viking series?
I do like writing Black Floki. He just doesn’t seem to have any moral compass, which makes him fun to write. Plus, he’s probably the most dangerous of all Sigurd’s warriors. I also like Olaf, particularly in the Sigurd books. Maybe being older myself now, I felt I was able to get right inside Olaf’s head. I loved how he reacted to Sigurd’s ‘hanging tree’ episode in God of Vengeance. He thought Sigurd was being an idiot, tying himself to a tree and starving, sacrificing himself to get Odin’s attention. Olaf is wise and slightly cynical and knows what’s what. He’s also hard as nails but doesn’t have to prove it every five minutes like some of the younger men.
- There is a fantastic depth to the books, an intimate knowledge of the time and land; how much research and travel did you need to do?
I spent a few days on the island of Karmøy, where Sigurd is from, and I was lucky enough to row the largest replica Viking ship ever built, Draken Harald Hårfagre. Other than that, it’s a lot of time on Google Maps and Google Earth looking at coastlines. (What incredible resources they are!) But most of it, nearly all of it, comes from life experience and imagination. I’ve spent enough time on little boats in the Norwegian fjords for the landscape to have seeped into my soul. The trick is, of course, selling that experience to a reader who may never have been anywhere quite like that. But then again, readers have powerful imaginations. If they didn’t, books like mine just wouldn’t work; the ideas – hacking off limbs in the shieldwall, standing at the prow of a longship, listening to a saga being told by a skald around a blazing hearth – would be too alien. A novel is a collaboration between writer and reader and, when it works well, it’s magic. These are the books that stay with us long after the final page.
- Will we ever see a return to the Viking world? Are there more tales of Sigurd to come?
There seems to be a growing clamour of calls for another RAVEN story. I must admit the idea is very tempting. Those who’ve read the RAVEN saga know I can’t in all good conscience leave the last survivors of the Fellowship getting corrupt and lazy in Miklagard. It’s hard to talk about the end of a book or series without the risk of spoilers, so I will just say that the last line of Odin’s Wolves pretty much sums up how my crew feel about it, and also how I feel about it myself.
- Many people ask if we will ever see the Rivers again; can/will that series be completed?
I really, really want to write another book in The Bleeding Land series. I have the first 40,000 words down but I can’t yet say when I’ll finish it or when it’ll be published. One way or another it will happen. Ideally it would be published in glorious style like The Bleeding Land and Brothers’ Fury, but that will be up to my publisher. They would need to be convinced it would sell enough copies and keep things moving the right way, and that’s another story, because the Viking books are quite popular and even the RAVEN books continue to sell well. Alternatively, I could perhaps release it as an e-book only. At least it would be out there and available and I’d satisfy many of those readers who email asking for another Rivers book. I’m really proud of the Civil War books and hope that more and more people discover them in their own time.
- What comes next for Giles Kristian and the wonderful world of writing?
I’m currently writing LANCELOT: The Betrayal. This is my take on the Arthurian myth and is very different from anything I’ve written before. There have been countless stories of Arthur, set as both medieval romances and stories of Dark Ages Britain. But we haven’t heard much at all about Lancelot, a character central to the popular myth. Lancelot, the greatest of Arthur’s warriors. Lancelot, the lover. Lancelot, the man whose affair with Guinevere destroys his friend Arthur and presages the downfall of the kingdom. But who is Lancelot? Well, this will be his story. We meet him as a young boy and we grow up with him, seeing the world through his eyes. We experience his inner conflicts; the struggle in his soul between love and duty, friendship, honour, hatred and revenge. In many ways this will be my most personal book yet and it’s going to take time to write it. Already, I feel my own soul weaving itself into the tale. My father passed away recently and it broke my heart. This book will be dedicated to him.
- Non-book question: Four people from any point in history can be invited for dinner – who would you invite and why?
Well then, let’s assume Stephen Fry is booked up all year being other people’s fantasy dinner party guest. The following list might change depending on what mood I’m in. I mean, it’s like choosing your favourite four songs or movies. Anyway…
Alexander the Great. By the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to north-western India. That he persuaded men to follow him on his extraordinary trail of conquest is testament to the force of his personality and his ability as a warrior and leader. He founded some twenty cities and his spreading of Greek culture resulted in a new Hellenistic civilisation. Few men who ever lived can have had such an influence on the world. I want to know what that sort of god-like charisma looks like in person (though I might not invite my wife to this particular dinner).
Harald Hardrada. For the age, Hardrada was incredibly far-travelled and experienced. He lived a life filled with war, fighting on land and sea from Scandinavia eastward through Russia to Byzantium, where he rose to lead the Varangians, the Emperor’s elite bodyguard. For thirty-five years he slaughtered his enemies and yet he was a keen poet who was even composing on the battlefield at Stamford Bridge, where he finally fell in 1066. He was a giant of a man and his favourite possession was his raven banner, Landwaster. For me there’s something intriguing about a man who must have been more sophisticated and widely travelled than his countrymen, while also being the most feared warrior in Europe. Basically, he’s the ultimate Viking, so if he’s round for dinner it’s going to be a memorable night. Plus, I’d like to know what he made of The Last Viking, the film Philip Stevens and I made about him: http://bit.ly/LastViking
Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon is invited because, like Alexander, he was able to inspire thousands upon thousands of men to fight and die for him. A man of great intellect, vision and drive, Bonaparte was one of the greatest and most successful military commanders in history (Wellington said his presence on the battlefield was worth 40,000 soldiers). Bonaparte’s
ambition and drive was beyond extraordinary and I admire his belief in a meritocracy and hard work. Indeed, historians regularly praise the talent and vigour which took him from an obscure village to commander of most of Europe. There’s no doubt his influence on the modern world has been huge, but ultimately Bonaparte’s ambition proved his undoing, and there is something of the flawed genius about him which is intriguing. And standing at 5ft 6in tall, I’d very much like to see him standing next to Harald Hardrada, who was a mountain of a man and likely well over six feet. Although I am beginning to worry about the egos around this dinner table, and I’m not sure my next guest is going to tone that down any.
Elvis Presley. Just to lighten the mood slightly. Again, off-the-chart charisma, as well as an incredible voice and someone whose influence on popular music and performers can hardly be overstated. One of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, Elvis was a hero of my father and we grew up listening to his music. My dad, who sang in a rock ‘n’ roll revival band for many years, would sing an Elvis Presley song at any given opportunity. We even visited Graceland for my dad’s 60th, which was an amazing and strangely moving experience. But when all is said and done, despite very humble beginnings Elvis went on to become the biggest-selling solo recording artist in history. Just yesterday I listened to “If I Can Dream” on my dad’s original 1956-model Wurlitzer jukebox. You just don’t get that authentic sound from an MP3 or smartphone.
- .. While I know you have either achieved book of the year or been top three every year (on Parmenion Books) since you started writing, in your own words (passes the soap box), why should people buy this and the other books in the series?
Time for the hard sell? OK, if you insist, Mr Carter. The Rise of Sigurd books were a joy to write. I perhaps shouldn’t admit this, but they are my favourite of the books I’ve done. I think as a writer I hit my stride with God of Vengeance. The writing felt so natural and comfortable and there’s perhaps an assuredness about the prose (Antonia Senior of The Times called it swagger – I rather liked that) which wasn’t present in the RAVEN saga. This ‘swagger’ seems to fit what is essentially a revenge story and the idea of a saga being woven by men out to make their reputations, to win themselves a hoard of fame. Also, I think there are several very strong characters in these books, male and female, so that readers might have their particular favourites, which is always fun. There’s a real sense of a crew here, of a brotherhood and sisterhood of adventurers and warriors whom you come to know. The most wonderful emails I receive are from readers who feel they are part of the crew. What more could I hope for than that? Over all though, I think God of Vengeance, Winter’s Fire and Wings of the Storm take us on a headlong and immersive journey into a pre-Christian Scandinavia of fickle gods, human sacrifice, blood feuds and petty kings. Indeed, on his final read-through of Wings of the Storm, my editor Simon Taylor said that during the last hundred or so pages he had to remind himself to breathe. I would have had them put that quote on the cover, even if he is my editor! But forget all of the above. These books are as Viking as it gets. The end. So what are you waiting for? Ready…steady…pillage!
1. Blood Eye (2009)
2. Sons of Thunder (2010)
3. Odin’s Wolves (2011)