Friday, August 17, 2018

Interview with Linnea Hartsuyker

I made the acquaintance of Linnea Hartsuyker when her publicist pitched her first book, The Half-Drowned King, to me for a New Books in Historical Fiction interview. You can find out more about that book below and in my blog post from that time, “The Power of the Sea.”

Even then I knew that The Half-Drowned King was the first part of a trilogy, so when I received a query about book 2, The Sea Queen, I jumped at the chance to set up a blog Q&A for Linnea, who in the meantime had also written a wonderful blurb for my own Vermilion Bird. (No tit-for-tat there: I’d have happily sent her my questions anyway.)

I’ll let her take over here, with thanks and a note that I’m looking forward to The Golden Wolf this time next year, especially having read that description at the end. And make sure you read right to the end, where you can find Linnea’s website address and social media links.

Congratulations on publishing book 2 of your series! For those encountering your novels for the first time, could you give us a capsule introduction to The Half-Drowned King, which precedes the new book?

Thank you! In The Half-Drowned King we first meet the young viking Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild. Ragnvald’s quest during The Half-Drowned King is to revenge himself on his stepfather and gain control of his ancestral land. But he has also seen a vision of a golden wolf who he must follow, and finds that wolf in young Harald of Vestfold, who is prophesied to become the first king of Norway.

As Ragnvald pursues his goals, his sister Svanhild flees from an unwanted marriage, and finds her escape in the arms of Ragnvald’s most powerful enemy, the sea king Solvi Hunthiofsson. Brother and sister both succeed in their aims, but end up on opposite sides of the fight for Norway’s future.

And where is your hero, Ragnvald Eysteinsson, at the beginning of The Sea Queen?

At the beginning of The Sea Queen, five years after the end of The Half-Drowned King, Ragnvald is in the service of King Harald as he battles to conquer all of Norway. While Ragnvald would sometimes rather be back at home, ruling his district, he also enjoys the success he has at Harald’s side. But in fighting one of Harald’s battles, he is involved in a bloody accident that will have repercussions for himself and many of his friends and enemies.

The first person we meet, though, is actually Ragnvald’s wife, Hilda—one of my favorite characters in The Half-Drowned King, at which point Ragnvald and Hilda were not yet married. Alas, their domestic life seems to be, to put it mildly, more complicated than either of them probably wants. What can you tell us about that?

Something I’m very interested in exploring in my writing is different kinds of long-term relationships. Vikings, living in the 9th–11th centuries, did not share our notions of romantic love. Love affairs occurred, and sometimes led to marriage, but most marriages were arranged between families. Also, the historical Ragnvald is known to have had sons by concubines other than his wife Hilda. So I wanted to present a complex marriage, based on affection and practicality more than on romantic love.

Ragnvald’s relationship with Hilda is further complicated by his affair with his stepmother—which led to a son only a few months older than Hilda’s eldest son. And finally, in an era without reliable birth control, the only way for women to be sure to avoid pregnancy was to avoid sex, and that too causes problems in Ragnvald and Hilda’s marriage.

Ragnvald is still, I gather, a strong supporter of King Harald, your own ancestor. But the situation in Harald’s court is also troubled, and not only Ragnvald but his stepbrother, Sigurd, get caught up in the conflict. What are their relative positions, and how are Ragnvald’s own impressions of Harald changing in this second novel?

One thing I love about The Heimskringla, the saga that tells us the most about King Harald’s rise and reign, is how ambivalent it is about kingship. It was written by the Icelander Snorri Sturlsson in the 12th century, as a compliment to Norwegian kings, but it also asserts Iceland’s independence—Iceland was something approaching a democracy at the time. So in my source material, Harald is both a mighty warrior and a successful king, but also a source of conflict.

I was interested in using this trilogy to explore the benefits and pitfalls of kingship, as well as how people and societies balance freedom and safety. Ragnvald believes in Harald’s quest to unite Norway, bring it into the wider European sphere, and protect it from raiders, but he is too clear-eyed not to see the negative things that come from that as well.

Sigurd, Ragnvald’s stepbrother, begins the novel following the path that many Norse took at that time, which was to escape Harald’s wars and new taxes for land overseas. He encounters those who wish Harald ill, and has to decide where his own loyalty lies.

My absolute favorite from The Half-Drowned King was, of course, Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild, who’s been living at sea with the trickster Solvi. What’s going on with them—and between them and Ragnvald—here?

Ah, Svanhild. She is everyone’s favorite, and so fun to write!

Sea-faring was dangerous in the Viking Age, and while Svanhild loves adventure, at the beginning of The Sea Queen, she is looking to settle down for the sake of her young son. Unlike Hilda and Ragnvald’s relationship, Svanhild and Solvi’s is based on romantic, sexual love, and is a strong partnership as well. But Solvi is not ready to stop exploring, or to give up all hope of ruling the kingdom he was supposed to inherit in Norway, and that puts him in conflict with both Svanhild and also Ragnvald again.

And where do things stand with book 3, The Golden Wolf? Any hints of or pointers on what to expect?

The Golden Wolf has been much harder to write than The Sea Queen. The Golden Wolf begins fourteen years after The Sea Queen. Not only are Ragnvald and Svanhild still main characters, but their children are growing into adulthood, and have their own conflicts and storylines. Svanhild may be a wonderful character, but she’s a difficult mother!

One of Harald’s tactics for uniting Norway was marrying every king’s daughter he could find, and that filled Norway with his sons, all of whom want kingdoms and responsibility. So in The Golden Wolf, all of the characters have to negotiate the problems that come from a king having too many ambitious heirs—the golden wolf has wolfish sons who threaten to destroy the tenuous peace that Ragnvald and Harald have made for Norway.


Linnea Hartsuyker grew up in the middle of hundreds of acres of forest outside Ithaca, NY. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. The Sea Queen is her second novel. Find out more about her at
Twitter: @linneaharts
Instagram: @linneaharts

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