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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The Folkungs by M. E. Javits is a sweeping historical novel that follows a fractured royal family in the aftermath of the deaths of their father, the king, and the first Magnus. For those unfamiliar with the real medieval Scandinavian royal houses, The House of Folkung is kind of a big deal. Magnus overthrew his elder brother to become the King of Sweden, and Javits' saga begins with the arrival of Sweden's Lord High Constable, Torgils Knutsson, who has been made guardian and regent to Magnus' heir, Birger. Javits paints a fictional origin story for Birger as the third Folkung who takes the crown of Sweden, a hollow prop under the command of the real ruler, Lord Torgils. His brothers, Erik and Valdemar, are trained alongside Birger in an alternative education that highlights each of their strengths and weaknesses. These are all but cemented as boys become men, and the legacy of Folkung family feuding is once more brought to life.
There is so much more to Scandinavian history besides the Vikings and these infamous raiders are not nearly as interesting as the evolution of Swedish royalty and the politicking that followed. The Folkungs harnesses a heritage that makes the Tudors look like whining amateurs and M. E. Javits does a spectacular job in developing them. Perhaps the most interesting is the daughter of Lord Torgis, Kristina, who due to her father's place in court makes her as much a pawn in the wheeling and dealing of wedding matchmaking as Birger, Erik, and Valdemar. It feels as if she is the heart of the story even when she is nowhere near the castle. The scenes depicting the lengths the Folkungs, Torgils, and Kristina are willing to go are both overt and more nuanced. Battles and fights, yes, but it is the small details, like Kristina riding under a tarp in a carriage full of dead bodies, that make an epic feel deeply personal to the reader. I ached for them, even Birger, who is hard to ache for. The writing is pitch perfect, the pacing is divine and the story unfolds so organically that this massive saga that spans the coming of age of four individuals linked by birth and destiny is worth the commitment required for a novel of this length. Highly recommended.