I’m seriously behind with this books category, with 3 read-but-unreviewed books on my desk right now. Instead of “catching up” by just skipping them, I’ll post something quick.
Some time in January I realised I hadn’t read any books in Swedish for a very long time, and decided to rectify that by reading Jan Guillou’s “Arn” series. This is a trilogy plus one freestanding sequel, about Sweden around the year 1200.
The first one is about Arn’s childhood and youth, most of which is spent in a monastery. The book has a fairly domestic feel, focusing mostly on everyday life and customs. This was quite interesting, because it appears well researched, and has a lot of historical detail without sounding like a schoolbook.
The second book is split between Arn’s adventures as a Knight Templar in Jerusalem and his fiancee’s waiting for him in a convent. The convent bits are not particularly exciting, but the passages about fighting to free the Holy Land from saracens are interesting. It’s got excellent descriptions of medieval politics and warfare, life in a militant / spiritual order, and the practical side of Crusading in the Middle East. Very vivid and alive.
In the third book Arn returns to Sweden, with knowledge, riches and foreign craftsmen. (Sweden at that time was a distant backwater and many decades behind continental Europe when it came to crafts and culture.) He builds up the strength of his clan, aiming to bolster the tenuous peace between rival clans. He brings Sweden closer to European standards – in particular in warfare, by introducing the concept of mounted armoured knights. I found this book less interesting, because there was little new in it. Daily life in early-medieval Sweden was already covered in book 1, and warfare in book 2. The only interesting parts here were descriptions of how society changed due to changes in practical matters.
As Arn dies at the end of the third book, the fourth and final one tries to squeeze a bit more money out of the franchise by telling the story of one of his grandsons. This one was full of politics, intrigue, rebellions, counter-rebellions etc, and I skimmed through it mostly just to be done with it.
All in all it’s quite a decent series of books. Well written, and well researched, even if the story was running thin at the end.