A kind of ingenious revision to the Beowulf epic - though I've never been a fan of the original. Crichton says in the afterword that the novel came about as something of a dare when a friend was compiling a college reading list that included the pieces of literature people think are too "boring" to read without compulsion and that Beowulf was at the top of the list. Disagreeing, Crichton set out to re-write the story and make it compelling again. His solution is a sort of historical narrative; Crichton fictionalizes a portion of "found manuscript" by the famous Arab traveller ibn Fadlan, whose accounts include the first known description of Viking society and culture. The author adds a voyage further to the north, where Faldan is the 13th member of a party set out to rid the north country of the "mist monsters" or wendol and the novel itself takes the form of a monographic commentary on a first-hand account manuscript. Notations and references give the story the feel of historical authenticity, as does the subsequent anthropological discussion of the exact nature of the wendols to ground the tale in reality.
Ultimately though, Crichton spends an enormous amount of effort trying to breathe life back into a stale relic of a tale without much of the original's poetry and substance. There's an overemphasis on grounding and a lot of time spent trying to convince you that the tale really did happen, much in the same vein as modern archeological and historical attempts to find the kernel of truth in other old epics from Troy to Crete (with some success). In fact, the discovery of shards of truth in those legends prompted Crichton to reach back further to try and do the same with Beowulf. It's a highly technical effort and mind-boggling academically, but as a story it's pretty lacking in empathy, characterization or even twisty plotting. Definitely form over substance. Three stars for effort.