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The Witches' Kitchen    by Cecelia Holland order for
Witches' Kitchen
by Cecelia Holland
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Witches' Kitchen follows The Soul Thief as the second in a planned quintet. The first of the series introduced soul-linked Irish twins, Corban and his sister Mav. After Mav was enslaved in a Viking raid, Corban followed her to Danish Dublin, to Jorvik in England, and on to Denmark. Corban killed an enchantress, saved his sister and the son she bore her rapist, and took them, and his new wife Benna across the Atlantic to Vinland. There they settled on a coastal island.

The story opens as Corban, his son Conn and nephew Raef, fish from a flimsy boat. There's an encounter with a shark, worthy of Jaws, that Corban takes as an omen. Soon afterwards, an old friend and trader, Ulf, arrives, bringing with him Benna's sister Arre and her ambitious husband Euan, who's run temporarily afoul of the Archbishop in Jorvik. Corban decides that he must go back to make amends for his past actions, thinking that 'the good seemed so frail, so uncertain, against the spreading evil.'

Corban has forged a friendly, though aloof, relationship with a local tribe and its leader Tisconum, but the latter worries about an incursion of the violent Wolf People from the west. Miska, an outsider in his Wolf tribe, encounters Corban's sister. Mav, who has the second sight, no longer speaks and wears 'clothes made of plants, gatherings of leaves, vines, and flowers twisted together around her.' That meeting drives Miska's subsequent actions, and leads to attacks by his people.

Corban, Conn and Raef journey to Hedeby, where Corban is reputed to be a wizard. They are quickly embroiled in local politics, and travel on to Jelling. Conn quickly befriends Sweyne Haraldsson, a claimant to the Danish kingdom, and pulls Raef (in many ways his opposite) into that circle. After Raef's second sight saves them from a hall burning, the boys and Corban fall into separate adventures. Along the way, Corban has supernatural help that solidifies his reputation for magic (I especially liked how Bishop Poppo was handled).

The boys come of age through battles on land and sea. Raef learns to trust his power and meets his shapechanging grandmother, a wonderful character. They're happy with their new fates, but Corban longs 'with his whole soul for the island, for the clear air and the wild wind, and the emptiness.' I was enthralled by The Witches' Kitchen and look forward very much to the next episode of this thrilling saga that spans old and new worlds.

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