Because You Can Never Have Enough Sheep
I seem to be on an average book streak lately, which is better than a bad book streak, but only just.
This book has a lot of things going for it. It's got a good premise, a good setting, and Vikings (yay, Vikings!). Gable must have done a ton of research, and it shows in the richly detailed world she's created. I really enjoyed the use of Norse mythology, and the myth behind the island of Catan was pleasantly Tolkien-esque (Gable admits he was an influence). I was also impressed by the depiction of slavery, which is anything but romanticized. In a culture where it's considered a sign of prosperity for men to father as many bastards as possible via their female slaves, the main character candidly reflects that there can be no true love between master and slave because the slave doesn't have the freedom to consent. I found that honesty refreshing.
Where it falls down into Averageville is in the flat characters, the meandering plot, and the anachronistic dialogue. In a 621 page novel, there is plenty of time to flesh out characters and create a flowing plot with a satisfying resolution. What I got here were a bunch of stereotypes and cliches and not nearly as much resolution as I would have liked. Throw in jarring phrases like "You can't mess with these Anglo-Saxons" and "Have you missed me, old pal?" and I'm left wondering if it would have been better in Gable's native language. Alas, I will never know. I'm a lazy, mono-lingual American and I can't read German.
For the curious, the board game tie-in is inconsequential. The story stands on its own and it won't matter one bit if you've never played the game.