Older teens and adults can discover a forgotten saint, and his lost values, through reading The Last Viking by Susan Peek. Peek offers one of the wonderful promises of historical fiction, guiding us in understanding what we have in common with those in the past. But also critical to sound historical fiction, she challenges us to consider if we've really made progress, when we compare how we might make our moral decisions with those made by compelling characters of the past, especially her hero, Magnus, an Orkney prince. I know a book resonates with me when I still am contemplating it days later, and the steps and the course the main character takes at the end challenge me.
Throughout the suspenseful plot, readers trace the paths of other characters who are well-drawn, especially Magnus's brother, Aerling, and Norwegian noble, Kol Kalison. Peek does much of this shading through a winning way with dialogue. At times, some action scenes take place "off camera," which I might have preferred to have described real time, but the author may have done this to create more suspense and to keep the pace going. I also would have liked to read a few more details of setting: the landscape, the warships, and their weapons, but again Peek's great way with dialogue and quick pace won me over. A last point about the writing is that since there is a particularly violent scene toward the end of the book, parents of younger teens who are a bit more sensitive might want to read ahead to ensure it's appropriate.
In short, Susan Peek has found her calling—to allow us all to discover and now remember holy men and women through her God's Forgotten Friends series. Through the gift of her storytelling, I'll always remember St. Magnus's singular strength, not the triumph of battle but the mercy of forgiveness.
Year of Mercy: It seems that St. Magnus can be a wonderful guide for us in this Year of Mercy. This novel is also particularly appropriate for young men—who might not otherwise be connecting to this theme. It could be a great gift.
Tracing History: The characters in the novel travel from Orkney to the coastal waters off Norway and Wales. Even Scotland is a setting. Other islands are mentioned. Teens can research history and geography as a jumping off point from the novel. Just a quick Google search revealed at least several churches in Britain dedicated to St. Magnus, and I'm eager to try to find at least one on my next trip!