For two years Osric has lived a simple life, apprenticed to the mute old carpenter who took him in when others spurned him. But when Norsemen from across the sea burn his village, Osric is taken prisoner by these warriors. Their chief, Sigurd the Lucky, believes the Norns have woven this strange boy’s fate together with his own, and Osric begins to sense glorious purpose among this fellowship of warriors.
Immersed in the Norsemen’s world and driven by their lust for adventure, Osric proves a natural warrior and forges a blood bond with Sigurd, who renames him Raven. But the Norsemen’s world is a savage one, where loyalty is often repaid in blood and where a young man must become a killer in order to survive. When the Fellowship faces annihilation from ealdorman Ealdred of Wessex, Raven chooses a bloody and dangerous path, accepting the mission of raiding deep into hostile lands to steal a holy book from Coenwolf, King of Mercia.
There he will find much more than the Holy Gospels of St Jerome. He will find Cynethryth, an English girl with a soul to match his own. And he will find betrayal at the hands of cruel men, some of whom he regards as friends.
This was my first book by Giles Kristian, and it certainly won’t be my last. It has all the elements you’d expect from a novel of this era: adventure, warfare, betrayal and treachery, blood lust, and brotherhood. Our protagonist, named Raven by the band of killers who raid his village, take him away, then adopt him, is unaware of his origin but it seems he may have been born a northman. He understands their language without really knowing why, and he certainly discovers that he has a propensity for fighting. And even though he is torn by conflicting loyalties, he is seduced by the comradeship of his captors and especially the special attention given him by their leader, Sigurd. Apparently his blood-eye marks him out as especially protected by Odin, and he learns to make use of his blemish, which holds him in good stead.
The bulk of this story is centered around the Norsemen’s expedition to steal a holy book from the King of Mercia. They are put up to this task by the untrustworthy ealdorman Ealdred, who holds their ships hostage after luring them into a trap:
“As I cannot trust a Christian to do it, I must look elsewhere,” Ealdred said, looking at Sigurd intently, as though he knew he was taking a great risk. “You, Sigurd, are a heathen. To you the book is nothing. You can’t understand its power. By Christ, I’ll wager you can’t even read.” Sigurd scratched his beard, and Mauger grunted as though he believed reading to be a waste of time best left to weaklings. “But I know you understand silver, Sigurd,” Ealdred said. “You read that well enough. We shall pay you in silver for the book.” The ealdorman’s lips spread in a thin line because he anticipated the Norseman’s next words.
“How much silver, Englishman?” Sigurd asked.
“Enough to buy yourself a kingdom and the men to make you king of it,” Ealdred replied, his eyes like chips from a broken icicle.
It was an offer they couldn’t refuse! Needless to say, Ealdred was a man of bad faith and the Northmen knew it. They also knew how to come out on top and it is intriguing to see how they pull it off. And Sigurd even manages to find a love interest! It’s a very enjoyable book with two more to go.
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