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Eaters of the Dead

by Michael Crichton

      Ibn Fadlan is a diplomat, not a warrior. His mission was to represent his people and make contact with other civilizations on their behalf. But it became so much more.

Fadlan finds himself among the Northmen (aka, the Vikings), a rustic group of behemoths whose customs and way of life are as repulsive as they are odd. But, far away, their people have become plagued by a violent horde of barbarians whose behavior transcends humanity. So, twelve of the brave Northmen warriors are selected to journey to the besieged village and relieve them of this demonic threat. To Fadlanís surprise, he is also chosen. He becomes the 13th warrior and, despite his objections, joins the men on their journey.

When they arrive, the greeting is robust even though some look at them with suspicion and this plays out as an inner conflict amidst the villagers and their leaders despite the looming threat from the barbarians. Then, the mist arrives, and so does the first attack. Most of the warriors survive, some with physical scars, others with mental ones. They endure a second attack and when their numbers continue to dwindle it becomes clear that an offensive strike is necessary. Fadlanís own words describe the showdown in a way that would challenge todayís most proficient adventure writers.

I canít deny the historical intrigue of this book, taken from the actual journal writings of Fadlan himself. Michael Crichtonís best talents are his in-depth research of his topic and his ability to know when to step back and allow the story to tell itself. This book is where both talents shine. This is Fadlanís story in his own words and Crichton does a masterful job of guiding the reader by interjecting timely footnotes along the way. In fact, the story was so good it became a major motion picture that, in all honesty, didnít do the book justice. Even though violent conflict played a major role in the tale, the narrative was not dominated with its descriptions. Instead, more time was devoted to the mystique of the Northmen, the vast cultural differences between them and the narrator and the underlying dynamic that drove the conflict in which they found themselves immersed. It was a refreshing reprieve from todayís typical explosions-and-death action/adventure tale.

Crichton is one of this generationís best, and Eaters of the Dead is one of his top-shelf works.

The Book

August 29, 2006
Historical Fiction [922 AD Northern Europe]
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The Reviewer

John Washburn
Reviewed 2006
NOTE: Reviewer John Washburn is the author of When Evil Prospers.
© 2006