The Settlers of Catan is such an iconic board game that I did a classic double-take when I came across the novelized version in the bookstore. Since the game is all about settlers building a life for themselves in a new land, the concept behind the board game should have been easy to translate into a historical fiction novel. Unfortunately, reading The Setters of Catan novelization simply makes me wish that I was playing the board game instead.
On the whole, Rebecca Gable’s writing is extremely detailed and steeped in a great deal of historical research. The settlers in the story are part of a Norse type society and Gale provides explanations and descriptions about all aspects of their way of life. Although the author’s thorough style is generally positive, it can become cumbersome and times and slows down the progression of the plot. One major flaw in the novel is that, as far as I can tell, no character ever asks about trading “wood for sheep.” Anyone who is a fan of the board game would have appreciated a nod to the most amusing inside joke among fans.
Gale’s characters are interesting and range from all different levels of the social strata. From slaves to the leaders of the village, there are many character’s viewpoints to consider. The two main characters, Candamir and Osmund, are quite well-developed, although I do not find either of them to be particularly likable. It is historically accurate to make them both slave owners, but I consequently find it difficult to root for either character.
For whatever reason, about a third of the story progresses before the settlers even make it to Catan. A great deal of time is spent establishing the settlers in their original home and describing the process of immigrating to their new home. While some readers may enjoy this aspect of the tale, I would have preferred more focus on bringing the atmosphere and setting of the board game to the forefront of the novel.
Ultimately, The Settlers of Catan is a decent historical fiction novel that does not necessarily tap into the genius behind the board game. I am still convinced that the game could provide the basis for an excellent novel, but this attempt is certainly a mixed experience. I am more comfortable recommending the book to fans of historical fiction rather than fans of the board game.