Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
The Final Days of Doggerland by Mike Meier might be the most ambitious novel we've read this season! It is seriously well-researched and solidly written. We typically avoid reading the plot summary or back cover, and so this book really surprised us (pleasantly)! We were not expecting such a unique story or all the nice little surprises that came with it.
One thing we really appreciate about this book and recognize as quite special is that this is one of the few books we've ever read in which the main villain, Viggo, is also the main character from beginning to end. No, he doesn't devolve into villainy or fall from grace like Anakin Skywalker or Big Boss, he is who he is, experiencing a bit of an arc near the end but essentially remaining a titanic heel the whole time. We don't think we've ever read a book like that! Seriously!
Now, you could make the argument for the ravens, Oane, or Nicu assuming that role of main protagonist, but c'mon... the main character—good or bad—is usually the one that the story centers around. Viggo, the villainous, ruthless, near-heartless chieftain of the Bollebarg tribe drives the plot. He IS the center of the story and thus its main character. It's quite fascinating. Viggo probably draws at least some inspiration from historical figures, tyrants, and bloodthirsty, war-mongering conquerors like Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan.
Viggo seems to be at war with everyone: every other tribe and even his own tribe (at times). Viggo is a pretty complex character. You could oversimplify him and classify him as a professional a-hole, but he's more than that. There are times when he does reveal a bit of humanity such as when he jokes with and even nudges others in a “somewhat friendly” manner.
There's even a part in which his wives joke about how disappointing he is in bed with one imitating him, saying, “You awake?” Viggo also shares a somewhat adorable owner-pet relationship with his ravens, Tanka and Sinne, who he often feeds and talks to like confidants. He also spares the heroes, Oane and Nicu, although under the guise of basically using them as slave labor such as to hunt for him. He also doesn't immediately kill or horribly torture a friend for sleeping with one of his wives, which is... somewhat merciful for a tyrant.
But let's not mix words, Viggo is a terrible, awful human being who frequently abuses his wives, brutally murders innocent people who are just trying to survive at a time of a geographic crisis, and even tortures his own people for crimes as simple as sneaking an extra bit of food. He sets up kangaroo courts and makes summary judgments. He puts things up to a vote in a false poll, only to reject the result entirely. Freedom and democracy are not things that sit well with Viggo. In a sense, he brings legalism and despotism to the Neolithic age.
Another thing that's very unique about this book is that it's possibly the only book we've read in which an animal's perspective is the main perspective from beginning to end! Viggo's two pet ravens, Tanka and Sinne, narrate this entire tale! And it's quite interesting and fun. What adds a bit of a wrinkle to all of this is that the ravens, obviously, do not speak the same language as all of the humans, but they understand most things that humans do and try to communicate to them frequently.
A lot of the time, they seem to play both sides. They want to protect their master, Viggo, but they also want to do the right thing and protect his wives, Nicu, and Oane. They understand morality perhaps better than some of the humans do. They know when something just isn't right such as many of Viggo's actions. At the same time, their ultimately moral compass revolves around their stomachs. They will go to where the food is and support where the food comes from. In a sense, they represent nature speaking to us. Nature is not an empty, stoic, lifeless thing, it has a conscience and needs just as the ravens do.
Another way in which this book shines is in showing us a world in which people live in desperation and in which resources are scarce. There aren't 7-11s or automobiles in this world, of course. Everything that the characters eat has to be found, harvested, hunted, and/or captured. Even their clothes are made out of things like wolves to withstand the weather.
Speaking of wolves, the wolves are always there to remind us that danger lurks outside of civilization. The camp is the closest thing to a safe space that the characters have, and it's unfortunately run by a bloodthirsty tyrant. There are also some interesting survival tactics put on display like when a character uses maggots from a dead deer to help heal a wound, knowing that the maggots will only eat the bad flesh and leave the good flesh alone.
Lastly, there are a lot of nice little touches to the book that add a bit of spice. For instance, every chapter has a nice little pattern accompanying its header, and many of the pages feature a cool footer. There are also full-length songs accompanied by sheet music and rather nice illustrations that remind us a lot of Pilgrim's Progress.
Check this book out on Amazon!