Kirkus Review for Under the Mound
Around an eldritch incident recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga, Heinrichs spins a 12th-century coming-of-age tale rich in both political intrigue and supernatural visitations.
Dispatched by his roaring father to join a company gathered by young earl Harald Maddadson, who is out to regain control of Orkney from a usurper, Malcolm Mac Alasdair is cast into a maelstrom of political maneuvering and murky alliances. When part of the expedition is forced by a storm to take refuge in an old barrow, he finds himself engaged as well in a deadly struggle with the tomb’s raging occupant. Though the verbal sparring among Harald’s advisors and positively Shakespearean family (his mother Margaret makes Lady Macbeth look like Mother Teresa) does tend to go on, the author counters with plenty of rousing scenes on wild seas and windy moors. Woven throughout are streams of prophetic visions capped by climactic encounters with Odin and his Wild Hunt. By the end, Malcolm has outgrown his petulance and naïveté, broadened his initially parochial Christian outlook and seen Harald on his way to a long and relatively peaceful reign.
Fantasy elements aside, this saga is reminiscent of a Rosemary Sutcliff novel in plot, themes, cast and overall tone. (Historical fantasy. 12-14)
excerpt from the CM Magazine review by Alison Mews
This gentle story reveals a culture and a way of life that is foreign to most Canadians, but the universal appeal of inter-generational love, courage and the power of dreams will ensure a ready audience. Canadians are no strangers to the dangers of eking a living from the sea and, especially on the east coast where we have witnessed the loss of our traditional seafaring way of life, this story will resonate.
Under the Mound
“The novel is set in Scotland and Orkney during the winter of 1153. Heinrichs’s descriptions help her readers feel the cold and the hunger, see a landscape which is both beautiful and terrifying, and smell a band of warriors, some Scots and some Viking, as they shelter in the mound of Orkahaugr during a violent, life-threatening snowstorm. Within this historical setting, Heinrichs weaves various tales taken from Norse mythology. Thorir the poet tells stories of Odin and the spirit world, and Malcolm’s dreams mirror a mixture of both the real and the supernatural.
Under the Mound is a saga with lots of intrigue and action as well as a large cast of characters. While Malcolm is central to the novel, readers also meet a variety of the Scots and Vikings who have set out to aid Earl Harald in his quest. They fulfill many roles: the poet, the schemer, the peace-maker, the adviser and so on. Like Malcolm, readers must judge who can be trusted. There are few female characters in the novel, but they are strong and include Margaret, mother of Earl Harald and plotter extraordinaire, and Sigrith, a young Orkney woman who proves to be both brave and intelligent.
The quest theme is predominant in the book as the entire tale centres on Earl Harald’s desire to reclaim his rightful inheritance. Equally important is Malcolm’s own journey, a sort of vision quest, which takes him more and more deeply into himself and teaches him what it means to confront one’s fears and overcome them. In his father’s words near the beginning of the novel, “They don’t call Orkney the Islands of the Boar for nothing, my son. You must be strong as a boar to survive it. If Orkney does not break you, it will make you a man”. (page 23)
For readers who like to delve into a long book and become immersed in another time and place, Under the Mound is an excellent choice.”
Resource Links review
“The story is part historical fiction, part fantasy and part examination of the growing Christian faith vis-à-vis ancient Norse legends, gods and beliefs. It is an ambitious work and for the most part it succeeds.”
Quill and Quire, John Wilson
“Using Norse sagas, runes carved on an ancient Orkney tomb, and generous doses of imagination, Heinrichs has crafted a long, complex story that is part historical fiction, part mystery and part fantasy.”