Kings of the North

by Cecelia Holland

Reviewed by David Maclaine

The Kings of the North concludes the six-novel series Cecelia Holland commenced with The Soul Thief. In it she returns to the supernatural conflict at the center of that book. Raef, known as Corbansson, but actually the son of Corban's sister Mav and the Norse king who raped her, is near the end of a long journey back from Constantinople. His aim had been to trace the parentage of a young woman he rescued from that great eastern capitol, but after the quest ends in sad anticlimax, the unfinished business of his family lures him back to England. There the dangerous supernatural creature his mother and uncle battled in the first novel has found a new host in Emma, the young Norman queen of England. The witch's aim is to harvest souls, and her powers steer England and King Ethelred toward war with Sweyn of Denmark. While Raef struggles to understand his adversary's power and find a means of defeating her, the fate-lines begin to spin around two royal princes, Edmund and Knut, teenagers who must grow up fast, and who will ultimately find themselves at the center of the struggle to control England.

The magical elements which receded somewhat in the third through fifth novels of the "Soul Thief" series, become more important here than ever, and fans who want their historical fiction untouched by fantasy may shy away. For the sake of her own tale of a greedy devourer of souls, Holland simplifies the ebb and flow of the Anglo-Danish war that ushered in the eleventh century, and other authors have made fiction of that struggle. But the sympathetic portrayal in The Kings of the North of the difficult coming to manhood of Edmund and Knut is a valuable contribution to our understanding of those crucial figures in history. Holland's uncanny ability to bring to life rounded, believable characters from the scant evidence of thousand-year-old annals shows that her power to sculpt character can still match that of any competitor. (2010, 416 pages)

More about The Kings of the North at

Kings of the North appears on the list of The 45 Best Historical Novels Set in the Viking Age

Other novels about the Vikings and the kings of England before the coming of the Normans:

Shieldwall by Justin Hill (2011), about a young man who survives the Viking raids of 1016 to fight in King Ethelred's army during the years before the Norman Invasion in 1066. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Cunning of the Dove by Alfred Duggan (1960), about King Edward the Confessor, who ruled from 1042-1066. More info

The Ward of King Canute by Ottilie A. Liljencrantz (1902), about King Canute and his wife Elfgiva. More info

Nonfiction about England before the Norman Conquest:

Cnut: King of England, 1016-1035 by M.K. Lawson (1993). More info

Aethelred II: King of the English, 978-1016 by Ryan Lavelle (2002). More info

Emma: The Twice-Crowned Queen by Isabella Strachan (2004). More info


Emma of Normandy, Queen of England at Susan Abernethy's Saints, Sisters and Sluts website

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