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The Soul Thief    by Cecelia Holland order for
Soul Thief
by Cecelia Holland
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2004 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

In The Soul Thief, Cecelia Holland returns to Ireland, in the middle of the 10th century. This is just before the period of The Kings in Winter (when the Danes still held Dublin and Brian Boru was High King in Tara.), which was the third of her first eight great novels, each superbly well written, each set in a completely different historical period, and each meticulously researched; an overwhelming achievement unlikely ever to be matched. As it happens, The Kings in Winter is, by a small margin, my favourite of that eight, so I came to this novel with a great deal of anticipation, and some trepidation. I need not have been concerned.

Corban and Mav are twins, the disappointing son and beloved daughter of the lord of an Irish coastal holding. When his father orders Corban to take up a sword for the High King, Corban refuses, not knowing quite why, or what he himself really wants. He is exiled, but waits sleeping in the woods while his sister tries to change their father's mind. But that night Viking dragon ships swoop down on the holding. After an interval of blood and rape and fire, they sail off with their booty, and as their slaves, all the young women of the holding including Mav.

Corban and Mav are soul linked, though Mav alone has the second sight. Corban is drawn in pursuit of her to Danish occupied Dublin, and then across the sea to Jorvik, in England, ruled by Eric Bloodaxe and his Queen, Gunnhild. There Mav had been sold to the Lady of Hedeby, who has the power to steal souls, and carried off again to the Kingdom of the Danes. In Jorvik Corban meets three sisters and becomes attracted to the eldest, Benna. However he must travel on to Hedeby where Mav (pregnant and determined to keep her child even though it is the result of repeated violent rapes) is sorely ill and barely able to resist the enchantments of the Lady.

The story is crammed with action in this most turbulent of times, but it is essentially the saga of Corban. It shows his growth, during his quest for his sister, from a muddled and uncertain youth to a determined and competent man, and also Mav's heroic though passive resistance to the Lady of Hedeby's enchantments. The Soul Thief must be classed with the author's very best novels, as she brings to vibrant life this extraordinary period in history.

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