The 13th Warrior
Michael Crichton

Cover In 921AD the Caliph received a letter from the King of Bulgars requesting an emissary to 'instruct him in religion and make him aquainted with the laws of Islam;' Ahmad Ibn Fadlan is the man who is sent. Fadlan was chosen as he had raised the ire of a powerful merchant and adviser to the Caliph by a less than innocent encounter witht he merchants wife. This book is Ahmad Ibn Fadlan's official report to the Caliph on his missionary expedition.

Fadlan failed in his mission to the Bulgars, due primarily to the fact he never reached them. On the shore of the Volga, the border to the land of the Bulgars, Fadlan encounters a group of Northmen. He unwittingly becomes a pawn in their machinations for a new chief. The result of which is he must now go with a group of warriors to the far Northland to assist a tribe beseiged by monsters. He didn't want to get invovled, but refusing to go would likely have resulted in his death.

What follows is, in essence, the poem Beowulf. In the authors afterword Michael Crichton explains the origin of this book. He wrote it on a dare from a friend to show Beowulf wasn't a tedious bore, as his friend maintained. Michael certainly proves his point.

'The 13th Warrior' was originally published as 'Eaters of the Dead'. It has been republished and retitled to coincide with the movie.

It is a relatively thin book by today's standards, but it packs an incredible amount into it. This is due to the style of writing Michael has adopted. To give the book the feel of the ancient epics he has written it in the same archaic narrative style. It is written in first person, from Fadlan's viewpoint, and uses very little dialogue. This style of writing allows a great deal of detail to be conveyed in very short space. It takes a few pages to adjust to the compact narrative style, but is well worth the effort.

Being a retelling, of sorts, of Beowulf means those familiar with the poem won't find much to surprise them in the plot. But for those familiar with the poem they will enjoy the book for the new slant it provides. It is an engaging and enjoyable adaptation of the poem. And for those who don't know it, the book could provide a starting point to the poems enjoyment.

It was refreshing to see a book that didn't romanticise the prevailing conditions of the time. Most fantasy uses a medieval setting, not dissimilar to this period in history, but they are always far cleaner and more hospitable than it really was. Michael paints the Northmen (ie Vikings) as they truly were, dirty and crude. In fact it is strongly emphasised as Arab culture at the time was far more civilised and to Fadlan the Northmen were true barbarians

All things considered, a very good book. An easy four stars.