Berserker by William Meikle. Book review

Berserker by William Meikle, Gryphonwood Press, Paperback £5.99, eBook £2.99

Reviewed by Dave Jeffery

A Viking trading mission finds more than a recently abandoned village. A terrible snowstorm befalls the raiding party, led by Per Johansson and his witless, yet captain-in-waiting son, Kai. In the blizzard they find an Alma, a yeti-like creature who they eventually slay for sport, only to discover that the yeti was pregnant and subsequently incur the wrath of a clan of great beasts. Amid the tragedy two friends – Orjan & Tor – try to salvage hope from the wreckage. Tor is a young, proud warrior, his heroism a contrast to the bullish Kai, while Orjan’s chances of Viking honour were robbed after an accident left him lame. But Orjan’s strengths lie elsewhere. He has the ability to connect to the Wyrd, a psychic netherworld that is inexorably tethered to the events as they unfold on the frozen landscape.  On occasion Orjan becomes so consumed, he is able to connect with a terrible rage, and become the titular Berserker, dishing out savage bouts of frenzy when odds are stacked.

As the story progresses, Orjan finds those who have escaped the village hiding in a nearby cave, and through the Wyrd, learns the nature of the not-so-savage beasts who consistently besiege the Viking warriors. There is a reason for their existence and their current motives that lies far beyond the murder of one of their kin. Orjan, it seems, is the key to unlocking the mystery of the Alma and their nefarious drives. The question is, will he be able to do this in time to save his own people?

Meikle’s outlandish Viking tale manages to mash Norse folklore and pulp fiction in such a way that it never feels off-kilter. The action set-pieces are what you would want from a tale of this ilk, fast-paced, brutal, and frequently applied. The writing is as you would expect from someone of Meikle’s calibre, the reader is as much trapped by the snow and ice as our hapless protagonists, shivering with both fear and the thought of those frigid landscapes on which the action pervades.

Yet it is in the more subtle moments that Meikle shows just how good a creator of fiction he truly is, the Wyrd and its influence on how Orjan uses it to interact with both his own kin, the Alma and the local populace.   

Yes, there may be gripes about the occasional overused phrase, but these are mere trifles compared to the depth of storytelling on show here. Personally, this reviewer would have liked to have seen this as a novel rather than a novella, there is certainly scope in the story for such a premise. This aside, there is no doubt that when it comes to tales such as this, Meikle is a true master.

Highly recommended.