Mother of Kings
by Poul Anderson
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
444 pages; ISBN: 0312874480
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Paul Lappen
Set in the tenth century, this is the story of Gunnhild, Queen of Norway and England (a real person). This was the waning days of the Age of Vikings.
As a child, Gunnhild learns the ways of withcraft from a Finnish concubine of her father, a powerful Norse chieftain. She also notices Eirik, son of their king. Growing up, Gunnhild keeps her eyes open and learns the relationship between the powerful and the weak. But she doesn't want to stop there. She becomes a spaewife, a master in witchcraft and sorcery, a knower of the Gods.
She marries Eirik, and things are wonderful for a while. She gives him seven sons, all of whom become great warriors, and one daughter, Ragnhild. Forced into a political marriage, Ragnhild gets a reputation as someone whose husbands tend to die before their time. Eirik's strength and Gunnhild's craftiness and knowledge of sorcery make them formidable foes.
Haakon, another son of Eirik's father, has an equally strong claim as Eirik to be King of Norway. This is a time of building alliances for both men among the groups in that part of the world. The fortunes of Eirik and Gunnhild start taking a turn for the worst. They are forced to flee Norway and live for a time in York, England. Anotherv time they flee to the Orkney Islands, part of present-day Scotland. Eirik dies in battle, as do his sons, one by one. Meantime, Christianity comes to that part of the world. Haakon embraces this new religion, partly because his best friend becomes a priest. He expects those in aliiance with him to do the same. But, there are those, including powerful people, who are not happy with the old gods being tossed aside.
This is a great novel. It's a big novel, both in size and in scope, so it is not easy or quick reading. Once again, Anderson shows why he was a master of the genre. The style of writing gives the impression that it was actually written a thousand years ago. Recently translated, it was mispackaged as Fiction instead of History. I know of no other contemporary writer in the field who can consistently do that like Anderson.
This book will take some patience, but it is highly recommended.