This juvenile historical novel focuses on two villages which are attacked by the marauding Vikings in the year 1066. During that year, according to the author's note at the back of the book, "there was a rebellion close to York, in Northumbria, not too far from Catla's village. The previous year, northern lords had ousted Tostig, brother to the King of England, from his position as Earl of Northumbria. In his anger, Tostig conspired against his brother by inviting the King of Norway to invade England and claim England's throne. The Norse king had already created trouble by proclaiming he was the legitimate heir to the throne.
That autumn, hundreds of Norse ships crossed the North Sea. Some of them sailed up the River Humber to York, where three great battles were fought. The invaders won the first two, but the English king won the third one, at Stamford Bridge, just outside of the city of York."
The fictional events that make up this novel occur just after the battle at Stamford Bridge in which Tostig was killed and King Harold saw his throne secured.
One day Catla is out on the headland above her village of Covehithe, walking and thinking of her impending betrothal to Olav, an older peddler. Catla doesn't really want to marry Olav, but she wants to please her parents too. On her way home, Catla sees smoke coming from her village and witnesses the attack on Covehithe by Vikings. Realizing that she cannot help her family or her village, Catla sets out on a journey to the nearest village, Aigber, on the banks of the Humber River, to seek help. Traveling by night, she stops at the standing stones to rest, before continuing onward. At the standing stones, Catla meets Sven, an older boy from her village on his way back from York. When Catla tells him about the attack, the two of set out on the final stage of the journey to Aigber.
But it turns out that the villagers of Aigber must also defend themselves from a Viking attack, after Catla and Sven sight the same Viking ship that attacked Covehithe, sailing up the Humber River. The village devises a plan to defeat the invaders and rescue Catla's village from certain captivity.
Catla and the Vikings is a well-paced historical fiction novel with an attractive cover illustration that will appeal to younger readers who like adventure and learning about history. The battle scenes are exciting without being gory and the final battle for Covehithe is filled with drama and tension. This novel is also a coming of age story, as Catla, who is only thirteen years old, makes the transition from childhood to being considered an adult member of her village. She does this by helping plan the attacks and also speaking her mind as to whether or not she wants to marry Olav.
Author Mary Elizabeth Nelson has worked as a teacher-librarian and also as a language arts teacher. I feel this novel would have benefited from a map showing the coastline and the situation of the two fictional villages as well as the journey Catla and Sven undertook. Not many juvenile books are illustrated these days, but this is one book that would have definitely benefited from the artwork of an accomplished illustrator.
For those young readers interested in the Vikings, another great read is Beorn the Proud by Madeleine Polland. Set in 9th century Ireland, Polland's wonderful novel tells the story of Ness, a young Christian girl captured by Beorn a Viking from Denmark, on his first raiding voyage.
Catla and the Vikings by Mary Elizabeth Nelson
Victoria, B.C.: Orca 2012