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Kings of the North    by Cecelia Holland order for
Kings of the North
by Cecelia Holland
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kings of the North is the sixth and final (following The High City) episode in Cecelia Holland's excellent 10th century series that started with The Soul Thief. It has taken readers from Ireland to England, Denmark, across the Atlantic to Vinland, and back again to journey south through Europe to Constantinople. The final episodes have followed the adventures of Corban Loosestrife's son Conn and nephew Raef, who were closer than brothers. Raef was devastated by Conn's death near Kiev.

As Kings of the North opens, Raef journeys through Normandy, accompanied by Laissa, the young whore he met in Constantinople, and her greathearted protector, Icelander Leif. They are guided by sorceress Gunnhild (in the guise of a hawk). Dying, she warns Raef that he must go to Jorvik (where his father Eric Bloodaxe once ruled) and find a way to stop the mad Lady of Hedeby (bound by Corban but regrettably freed by Gunnhild) from consuming the world. The Lady of Hedeby always inhabits a woman's body. Though Raef is strong in magic, he doubts his ability to win against this great evil. He leaves his body often, seeking a way, worrying Leif and Laissa.

Raef and Laissa marry on the way to London. There they see King Ethelred the Redeless along with his sons Aethelstan and Edmund, and Ethelred's new Norman wife Emma, who is under the control of the Lady. They flee after the Lady seeks to acquire Laissa and to have Raef killed. She influences Ethelred to order a slaughter of 'every Dane and every half Dane' in his kingdom (feeding on their souls and growing in power). They make their way to Jorvik, where Raef rebuilds and rules. He and Laissa have a baby, Gemma, and Raef becomes known as 'the wizard of Jorvik.' He loves Gemma dearly but a rift grows between them, because of her devotion to the Christian religion and fear of his magic.

In the meantime, King Ethelred is haunted by the ghost of one of the massacre's victims and keeps Emma close. England is invaded by both Jomsvikings and the forces of Sweyn Forkbeard, now King of Denmark. Circumstances result in Raef's fostering (and mentoring despite resistance) Sweyn's son Knut (who eventually becomes England's King Canute, an event foreseen by Raef). When Aethelstan is killed, Edmund takes up his banner. And Raef finally gathers the courage to do what he was always meant to do, with help from the spirit of Corban and from Laissa - 'Love drove out his fear.'

Kings of the North brings an extraordinary series to a remarkable conclusion, ending Raef's story and beginning Knut's. Since it left me wanting more, I'll just have to go back and start reading it all again, starting with The Soul Thief. Cecelia Holland has been my favorite historical author for decades. I have devoured everything she has written and can't wait to see what she embarks on next. I highly recommend all her works to anyone who appreciates historical fiction.

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