About the author: “A former soldier, William Stacey served his country for more than thirty years, including multiple combat tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan. William loves exercise and all things martial and is a black belt in karate. Black Monastery is his debut novel.”
From the dust cover: “The Viking north clashes with the supernatural east in an epic historical fantasy tale of heroism and redemption in the face of unimaginable horror.
In 799 A.D. Viking warband leader Asgrim Wood-Nose sails his prized longship Sea Eel south along the coast of Frankia to raid the island of Noirmoutier—the Black Monastery.
Banned from his homeland following a night of rage-filled murder, Asgrim has been declared outlaw. Unless he can raise a princely blood debt, he will never see Denmark again. When a Saracen merchant brags of a great treasure hidden deep within the monastery, Asgrim realizes fate is offering him a chance to go home again. But Asgrim has led his men into a trap: somehow, the monks of the Black Monastery have released a dark supernatural force, an eastern demon that wears the skins of its victims. Hunted by this monstrous evil and tormented by the ghosts of those he has slain, Asgrim’s only ally becomes another lonely soul, a Frankish woman abandoned by her people under suspicion of witchcraft.”
My Ebook review: Wow! This book really captured my interest and imagination and it is impressive as a debut. The setting and plot initially caught my attention in a not too surprising way because I live in Denmark and have family members who take a lot of time and effort being Vikings at the various events and re-enactments that are uplifting to visit. Stacey produced a work that has a feel of authenticity and research that lends an effortless quality to the scene setting and character building. We get a good feel for the culture of the Vikings and some understanding of what drives their lives and enables their bravery.
Beyond the historical perspective, the plot is fresh and interesting and essentially comes out of the turbulence of where three cultures meet. The eastern demon is the central horror that is well constructed and used wisely. The story is told through the perspectives of a number of the characters both in real time and in flash backs or dreams. This approach allows Stacey to flesh out the plot and the back story in a subtle manner and over the course of the book various key elements are clarified in a satisfactory way.
This being Denmark and all it is not possible for me to avoid commenting on Asgrim and his hosts, almost Hamlet like in paranoia at times and certainly headstrong and fool hardy his story and journey are well told and fascinating. He is also given his fair share of luck along the way, but somehow that balance was right and it added to the epic tale.