The Voyage of Freydis takes the tale of Freydis Eriksdottir, a minor character who is mentioned in a brief but enignmatic fragment of the sagas about Greenlanders making their way to the place they called Vinland — now presumed to be the Norse settlement site at L’anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland — in the 11th century. Because women are so often nameless and absent in these types of historical accounts, it’s almost irresistible for historical fiction writers to try to build a story around the rare woman who does have a name and is depicted as doing something. Tamara Goranson is not the first writer to take on Freydis’s story; in fact, I read Joan Clark’s novel Eriksdottir, also about Freydis. However, that book came out in 1994 and I probably read it then or within a few years afterwards, so I sadly can’t remember anything about Clark’s take on the story.
The details that are captured about Freydis (a sister of the famous explorer Leif “the Lucky” Erikson) in the sagas are hard to make a sympathetic story out of, as she is depicted as ruthlessly murdering a bunch of fellow explorers. A good novelist will tell the story so that her actions makes sense in context; a good novelist will also be aware that what comes down to us in sagas and historical records is not always an accurate reflection of how real people might have behaved.
In this novel, Goranson has given us a believable and sympathetic Freydis trapped in an abusive marriage to a brutal man. The lengths she goes to to get free and stay free from her husband are what drive the novel’s action. There were times when the language, especially in dialogue, did not draw me into the story as much as I’d hoped, and a few possible anachronisms that pulled me out of the story. But as a reader and writers who is always interested in the erased or mistold stories of women in history, I was very interested in this take on the Viking story.