True story: I started reading this volume the evening it arrived with the intent to find out how the cliffhanger from vol. 8 would be resolved and to finish up the rest of it tomorrow. A couple hours later, I had burned through the entire thing (and did it again before sitting down to write this). So “Vinland Saga” hasn’t lost any of its compulsive readability with vol. 9. The first half is a rivetingly tense hunter’s duel between Thorfinn and newcomer Hild, who has some very personal issues she wants the former raider to answer for. As the battle of wills and skills plays out, mangaka Makoto Yukimura reveals Hild’s past full of equal parts tragedy and invention. Trying to work an extended flashback into an action sequence might seem like it’s a recipe for disaster, but Yukimura makes it work and the payoff is an almost magical moment of forgiveness as the ghosts of the past intervene in the present. This is all followed by journeying through the Baltic where Thorfinn meets up with a beloved (by me at least) former member of the supporting cast and finds himself embroiled in the succession drama of the Jomsvikings.
While the new viking drama plays out well as it continues to test Thorfinn’s resolve, it does represent a potential issue for the series going forward. As compelling a protagonist Thorfinn is at this point, nearly everything in this volume revolves around him to the point of single-mindedness. Even Hild, who is introduced with her own issues, is quickly relegated to a supporting role that involves looking after Thorfinn for plot-specific reasons. There’s also the fact that with this new “War in the Baltic” arc, we’ve had the second consecutive story where our crew has come to a new location and found themselves dealing with the drama of Thorfinn’s past. At this rate “Vinland Saga” might just wind up becoming “The Thorfinn Show” if Yukimura doesn’t remember that he has a vibrant supporting cast with their own desires and dramas to contend with. Even if Thorfinn is its center, “Vinland Saga” has always been a vibrant ensemble drama at its core. I’d hate to see that part of the series done away with as it moves forward.