Soul Thief

by Cecelia Holland

Reviewed by David Maclaine

The Soul Thief begins with events ordinary people lived through again and again during the centuries when the Northmen sailed across the seas and up rivers to pillage, kill and enslave. This time, an Irish youth named Corban discovers his home has been destroyed and those he loves butchered by raiders from the sea. But one body he does not find is that of his beloved twin sister, Mav, so Corban sets off on a quest to redeem her from a brutal captivity. Before long, the psychic link between the two that provides some reassurance to the captive Mav has drawn the attention of two magically gifted women, one a mysterious power known as the Lady of Hedeby, the other Gunnhild, the wife of Eric Bloodaxe, reigning king of Jorvik, the Viking town now known as York, England.

The cast of characters grows, as does Corban himself, as he travels one of the main trade routes of the Viking world from Dublin to Jorvik to Hedeby, and makes a storm-driven detour to an unknown land far to the west. It's not easy to say what endangers our resilient hero more: the usual bloody mess that passed for politics in the tenth century, or the more unusual competition between those whose tools are magical. Corban's fate becomes entwined not only with that of his sister, but with the survival of Jorvik itself under destructively short-sighted rule. Before the tale ends he becomes the driving force behind Eric's famous date with destiny at a place called Stainmore, but in this tale of dark force there are foes more dangerous than kings. Indeed, the plot mirrors a game of chess, insofar as kings with nicknames like Bloodaxe and Bluetooth actually have nothing like the power of the queens. As always, Holland provides a vivid close-up of a long-gone world, and The Soul Thief offers an unusual but irresistible view of engaging characters in collision with some of the century's most famous figures. (2002, 304 pages)

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The Soul Thief appears on the list of The 45 Best Historical Novels Set in the Viking Age

Other novels based on Scandinavian sagas and mythology:

Styrbiorn the Strong by Eric R. Eddison (1926), about a tragic figure from Norse sagas, Styrbiorn Olafsson, an heir to the Swedish throne whose hot temper led to his being denied the kingship. More info

Odinn's Child by Tim Severin (2005), about a son of Leif Ericson and a Celtic mother who arrives in Greenland in 1001, is raised as a pagan, and fights against Brian Boru in the Battle of Clontarf; based on the Eyrbyggja Saga; #1 in the Viking trilogy. More info

Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan (2010), historical fantasy about two brothers kidnapped as infants and raised by Vikings; based on a Norse myth. More info

Nonfiction about the Vikings:

Eirik Bloodaxe by Gareth Williams (2010), a biography of this Viking king of Jorvik. More info

Early Kings of Norway by Thomas Carlyle (1875). More info

Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson (circa 1230), More info


Eric Bloodaxe at Wikipedia

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