Book One of Northern Fire
“The ways of the spirits and the practices of the Gods are plagued with uncertainty … We have been given a glimmer of hope among words of doom. Think of it as a tiny flame in a gale.”
Thus Magon, Priest of Hondrig, warns the Fjordlanders of Krannogberg that the words of their seeress are perilous. The Gods have bestowed strange blessings of late: not just prophesies. Rulla, Dealer of Fates, has seen fit to deliver four babes – Cairn, Lars, Lora, and Thay – on Darknight to different mothers. The Darnok clan has never experienced such a momentous birthing. Indeed, the prophesies seem tied to the bairns: upon safely delivering the babes into the world, the clan seeress falls into a trance and chants a prophesy of future danger and possible glory.
The fathers celebrated the glorious future that awaited Krannogberg, never considering what such a fate might cost, for men oft trade misery and hardship for names that live for generations. However, their mothers might have tried to strike a different bargain with Rulla, for every rune of glory is stained in blood. And the runes picked for the four young babies were not stained in blood, they were soaked in it.
The bairns grow amid conflict between the Darnok and the Jarlags, a rival clan bent on pillaging the riches of Krannogberg. They also learn of the Sea Wolves, a clan that sails the seas, raids foreign lands, and brings back plunder. All clans must pay a tithe to these raiders, and to become warriors, Fjordlanders must serve in the Unsettled Clan.
When the four younglings are twelve, Lars discovers a rusted sword on the heath. Thay names it Harbinger, for he believes it is a fateful portent. And so it proves, because the Darnok must rally to the defence of their town against a Jarlag raid. In the aftermath of the battle, the Krannogbergers come to believe the weapon is is meant to be the sword of Fjordland’s first kunungr, or king, someone who will unite the warring clans and bring peace to the land. But that same prophesy named it “faithless steel”. Although it might presage the crowning of a king, three wielders of the blade shall fall before the king’s acclaim. And what of other verses in that prophesy? What of the Swans of Death that gorge on flesh, or the foreign lords with foreign arms who sow foreign woes?
At sixteen, the children pass into the Sea Wolves, a rite of passage that proclaims them as adults. Their spirits soar as they brave the Demon’s Teeth and discover the world beyond the Boldring Mountains, overcoming the perilous seas and dangers upon land. But in all great sagas, other Fjordlander Gods play a role and Tanat the Rogue has yet to make His will known. One afternoon, He turns their world on its head, placing the lives of the four young Sea Wolves on a knife edge.
Harbinger launches the Northern Fire pentalogy, a work that explores the role of violence within and among societies, as well as people’s need to adhere to traditions, believe ancient wisdoms, and give credence to prophesy. It examines questions of identity, loyalty, and belonging while taking the reader on a wild ride.
“Mr. McKinley’s writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank and one that will have you highly anticipating … The Winter Wars.”
“I read a previous novel by Ian and was hooked. I wanted to read more of his work and it led me to Harbinger which I truly enjoyed as much as his earlier book. I am looking forward to his next one and will be first in line to pick it up.”
Here are full-colour maps of the lands in which Harbinger takes place.