Monday, 12 September 2016

Review: Hakkapeliitat I-III by Artturi Leinonen

“Hakkapeliitat” by Artturi Leinonen is a trilogy about a group of Finnish light cavalrymen (hakkapeliitat) in the service of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

There’s action, adventure, bloody battles and even a bit of romance. The language is lush and expressive – the author occasionally waxes rather lyrical, though, especially when describing Finnish nature and landscapes. For a more detailed description of the plot, I refer to my DH's review.

I’ll admit that it’s been a while since a book made me laugh out loud, but this one managed it a couple of times! There is plenty of humour, most of which stems from the dialogue, the characters’ idosyncracies and their... hm, heroic deeds. The Finns are giants with incomparable strength and courage: they carry the cannons! They tear enemy cavalry men from their saddles with their bare hands! And one of the characters always sings the same song (if with slightly different lyrics), it’s like the Sharpe movies! :D

There is, however, a darker side as well. The horrors and the insanity of war, both on the fields of battle and on the home front; the king’s doubts about whether he has the right to command men to a certain death, to shed blood and destroy kingdoms... One could, of course, see these as a sort of mandatory morale, but they are contemplative rather than preachy and give gravity to the otherwise light-hearted adventure. There were a few times when I had tears in my eyes.

Set in roughly the same time as “The Three Musketeers”, some comparison is inevitable – both novels (or series of novels) are rather light-hearted, swashbucklerish adventures (swashbuckling being a more obvious element in the “Musketeers”), but while the “Musketeers” has a fairly well defined story arc and iconic antagonists, these are less clear in “Hakkapeliitat”. Still, I must say that I initially started reading this book for historical detail and period feel, but soon enough I was immersed in the story and actually grew rather fond of some of the characters.

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