Blog Tour: The Chessmen Thief

Written by Barbara Henderson
Interior and Spine Illustrations by Sandra McGowan
Owl Illustration by Lana Elanor
Published by Cranachan Publishing

Thank you so much to Cranachan Publishing and to Antonia for inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour, and for providing me with an early copy of ‘The Chessmen Thief’ . I’m excited to be sharing a Guest Post from the author, Barbara Henderson, where she shares her five favourite Viking Books for Children. I will also be sharing my Review for this wonderful historical adventure.

Barbara’s five favourite Viking Books for Children:

  • She-Wolf by Dan Smith. This recently published book captures a Viking world of vengeance and cunning, where Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen mingle and no-one can tell friend from foe. Following the murder of her mother in the strange land of Northumbria, Ylva vows to track down the three-fingered man who killed her, despite the snow and circling wolves. A story that truly captures the adventure of the chase in a harsh, hostile land.
  • Viking Boy by Tony Bradman. Gunnar is the son of a Viking chieftain, minding his own business at his family steading, until everything changes: they are raided by Skuli and his murderous Wolf Men, and Gunnar has no choice but to run to save himself. A story brimming with drama, combat, revenge and myth, it culminates in a sea journey to the Land of Fire and Ice. Gunnar’s life has been foretold, and there is more to this saga than meets the eye.
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. I love the humorous take on the Viking genre in Cressida Cowell’s series set on the fictional island of Berk. The characters and their quirky names are a joy to read aloud and I highly recommend the audiobooks, narrated by David Tennant. Humorous children’s fiction at its absolute best. Ignore the films, read the books!
  • Thorfinn, the Nicest Viking by David MacPhail. This gorgeous, funny, illustrated, action-packed series for young readers who love Horrid Henry and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is set in a Viking world where manners mean nothing and politeness is pointless. A lovely, quirky take on the Viking genre.
  • The Saga of Erik the Viking by Terry Jones. This is my favourite, to be honest. It follows the structure of the sagas, with a hero, a couple of sidekicks and a series of episodic adventures on an overarching quest. On their search for the land where the sun goes at night, the friends battle a sea-dragon, a spell-hound and The Old Man of the Sea, among others. The illustrations by Michel Foreman lend the book its otherworldly quality. Simply stunning!
Barbara Henderson is the author of the Viking adventure The Chessmen Thief, published by Cranachan Publishing 29th April.

My Review

The Chessmen Thief is an utterly enthralling tale of one boy’s courage and determination to shape his own fate, a tale that completely captivated me as I was taken on an unforgettable and vivid adventure from Trondheim across the sea to the Scottish Isles. 

Twelve-year-old Kylan has not seen his mother in four years as they have been separated after being enslaved following a Viking raid where they were taken from their home on the Scottish Isle of Lewis.  Kylan is now a thrall in Trondheim, Norway where he works for craftsmen, but he longs for his freedom and to be reunited with his mother.  This hope seems like an impossible dream until an opportunity arises when the new Archbishop visits the workshop, commissioning gifts to be crafted for the leaders who he intends to visit on his mission to the Scottish Isles. 

Kylan finds himself hatching an escape plan, a plan that sees him helping to carve the exquisite Lewis Chessmen, and making a dangerous journey across the sea in the hope of returning to his homeland, a journey where he must face a dangerous enemy in merciless Viking, Sven Asleifsson, where he must use all his ingenuity if he is to survive, and where he finds friends in unexpected places …

This is a richly atmospheric, tension-filled and action-packed adventure, brimming with danger, secrets and treachery but, at its heart, it is the story of a boy who longs for freedom, a story that wholly captured me from start to finish.  Will Kylan escape from his Viking captors, and find his way back to his homeland and his mother?

Kylan is an incredibly sympathetic young boy who faces incredible challenges with courage, kindness and determination.  Astute, resourceful and resilient, Kylan fights for his freedom whilst remaining true to himself, even when he is faced with difficult choices and dangerous situations.  I thought the relationship between Kylan and Jarl Magnus, the Archbishop’s protector and advisor, was both powerful and beautifully written with each having their own burdens to bear and scars to heal.    

The story is inspired by the famous Lewis Chessmen (a set of 12th-century chess pieces most of which are carved from walrus ivory,which were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831) and fascinatingly imagines how the hoard found its way from Trondheim to the Isle of Lewis. I loved the blending of real historical characters with imagined characters; the sagas and mythology within the story; and, the wonderful world-building which drew me into this richly realised period of history with tales of the old Gods intermingled with Christianity and the influence of the Crusades.

The Chessmen Thief is a perfect addition either for any school focussing on the Vikings as there is much to learn amidst the thrilling adventure, or for anyone who loves a brilliantly engrossing historical adventure.

Please do check out the other posts on the Blog Tour:

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