18 August 2014

Review: Sven the Returned by Brian Wood

One of the graphic novel series I read this summer was Brian Wood's Northlanders, which is historical fiction that takes place during the time of the Vikings. Instead of focusing the entire fifty-issue series on a single character or plot line, Wood wrote seven independent story arcs, each of which is set in a different location and in different years, spanning roughly from the 700s to the 1200s. Here are my thoughts (with a minor spoiler) in a bullet review.

What's it about? The first volume, Sven the Returned, is set in the Orkneys in 980 BCE. Sven, the son of a Viking lord, left his northern home when he was a boy, rejecting his inheritance as much he felt his family rejected him. He eventually ended up in Constantinople, where he made a good a life for himself as a Varangian. When he learns of his father death, however, Sven decides to return to the islands to claim his wealth and defeat his uncle, who has taken over the lands.

The good. I was initially drawn to the series because it was about Vikings and because I loved the artwork (by Davide Gianfelice) (click the scans to see full size). I also appreciated that the story was fairly realistic, with almost no fantasy or myth elements. You should be aware that Northlanders is most definitely an adult series, with plenty of violence and some sex.

The not so good. Sven wasn't a very sympathetic character and came off as selfish and greedy. This made it difficult for me to feel sorry for his situation and to root for him to regain his inheritance, especially because he wanted the money and didn't really care about what happened to the people. In the end, he showed a better side of himself, but it was not enough and a little too late. Furthermore, the women in the book, were not very well developed, although I liked Enna, a Scotswoman, whom Sven met when he was living in Orkney wilderness.

My main problem with the book had to do with the setup of the comic itself. There were quite few instances in which Wood resorted to descriptors instead of illustrating what was happening. For example, instead of demonstrating a change in seasons through the artwork, Wood includes a narrative bubble that reads, "Months pass, winter comes" (p. 84). In another instance, instead of showing us through facial expressions that Sven is attracted to a young woman, Wood adds a thought bubble that says "And she had my heart" (p. 112).

My final complaint was that the ending was fairly predictable and that a few plot points were glossed over or dropped.

General thoughts. Unfortunately I can't wholeheartedly recommend Sven the Returned. In fact, for the reasons I discussed, I don't plan on reading more of Brian Wood's Northlanders series. On the other hand, it's important to remember that each story arc in the series is independent, and the other collected volumes may be much more successful.

DC Comics / Vertigo, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781401219185
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


rhapsodyinbooks 8/18/14, 8:26 AM  

The art work *is* really nice.

bermudaonion 8/18/14, 9:19 AM  

Vikings seem to be up and coming in books.

Daryl 8/18/14, 10:56 AM  

thanks for the review ….

Sue Jackson 8/18/14, 7:07 PM  

Sounds interesting. I don't normally read many graphic novels but I read two very good teen ones this summer and enjoyed them. Just passed one of them onto my teen cousin - she was thrilled!


Book By Book

Beth F 8/23/14, 7:45 AM  
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