by Rebecca Silverman,

Vinland Saga

GN 8

Vinland Saga GN 8
Thorfinn may have returned to his childhood home in Iceland, but that doesn't mean that he can stay – after all of the horrors he's experienced (and perpetrated), he and Einar are determined to start life over anew in Vinland. Leif is willing to go with them, along with his son Bug-Eyes, but there's the question of funding. The four men set sail for a wealthy man's farm to see if they can secure a loan, but along the way get caught up in the saga of Gudrid, a young woman about to be married who longs for something more than life is willing to offer to a woman in 1018.

The violence of Makoto Yukimura's Viking epic Vinland Saga has waned. It was an important factor in hero Thorfinn's early development – without his time with Askeladd and his armies, Thorfinn would never have developed either the ambition that he has to create a new society nor the appreciation for human life that drives it. He finished learning some hard lessons during his time as a slave, and now, newly free, he is ready to embark upon the next stage of his journey.

There's definitely an aspect of escaping his past in his decision. When his sister Ylva, in the middle of insisting that he be clean-shaven and presentable, mentions that he might be able to snag himself a wife if he looks, Thorfinn says that he can't have that kind of life, with the implication that domestic bliss is not something that he deserves or can handle. While a piece of him may want that – as evidenced later in the book when he rescues an orphaned infant and ends up being the baby's primary caregiver – he also feels that he can't let his past catch up with him. If he's ever going to allow himself forgiveness, which he at several points in the story seems to imply that he does not deserve, it's going to have to be in a place far away from his memories. To that end, simply traveling is a balm to his soul – if he's moving, he's not remembering, and the farther he gets from Iceland, Greenland, and England, the fewer familiar people he's likely to see. This is really driven home by the encounter he has in the final chapter of this volume, a woman whose life he dramatically changed (and not for the better) when he was a young teen.

The young woman, Hild, also factors into a marked increase in female characters in the two volumes collected in this omnibus. When Thorfinn and his friends initially set out to secure funding for their trip to Vinland, they end up tangled in the story of Gudrid (originally written Guðríðr), a young woman about to be forced into her second marriage when all she wants is to be a sailor. Unlike Ylva, Gudrid actively resents the idea that a woman must stay at home, and she is unable to reconcile herself to even a more active version of the women's sphere like Thorfinn's sister does. She has been trying to stow away on Leif's ships since she was a little girl, and in Thorfinn she finds an unlikely ally. Of course, it helps that she assaults her husband on their wedding night and is in need of an escape plan, but Thorfinn, who has found himself roped into roles he never intended, understands that Gudrid will not ever be a “perfect” woman.

Gudrid's inclusion in the cast not only is a nod to the great Viking women of history, most prominent among whom is Alfhildr the pirate, but also helps to show us what Thorfinn missed growing up on a battlefield – some very basic sex ed, as it turns out, as he is shocked to find that women can't just randomly produce milk. Between Gudrid, Hild, Ylva, and the wife of the man Thorfinn asks for money, we get a nice spectrum of what it meant to be a woman in the Medieval Viking world, and while it isn't a major part of the story, it does provide a good change of pace from the more masculine focus of the previous books while allowing Thorfinn to interact with more people in different ways. Gudrid and Hild especially provide an opportunity to see different parts of his personality that we might not otherwise have been privy to.

Vinland Saga is still going strong in this omnibus, which includes original volumes fifteen and sixteen. Its shift from the battlefield to Thorfinn's journey may take down some of the initial excitement, but this more introspective section of the tale is just as historically and narratively interesting as what came before it. Yukimura's research shines through in both the artwork and the storytelling, and the writing is just as strong as ever, going between revenge plots, humor, and a beautiful scene where Thorfinn soothes a frightened dog. If you haven't been following this series and are interested in Vikings, the Medieval period, or just like good books, this volume confirms that Vinland Saga is a series worth reading.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-

+ Historically fascinating, good mix of moods and action in the narrative, Gudrid gives the story a new way to explore its time period
The mistress with the ojou-sama curls feels anachronistic, boat seems to change size arbitrarily

Story & Art: Makoto Yukimura

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