|Cecelia Holland: The Witches' Kitchen|
Forge Books (Hardcover), ISBN 0312848862
Scandinavia during the early years of Christianity brimmed with political schemers, would-be kings, pagan priestesses, and young men eager for adventure. Such characters stock Cecelia Holland's latest historical thriller, The Witches' Kitchen, a superbly blended account of the fall of Eric Bluetooth, King of Norway.
But Eric serves merely as a backdrop to the story of Corban Loosestrife, first introduced in the prequel The Soul Thief. In the earlier book, Corban escaped Denmark to set up a homestead in Vinland with his wife and sister. Now, fifteen years later, those people and actions Corban thought left behind in Denmark return to plague him. Against his wishes, Corban sails back to Denmark with his son Conn and nephew Raef, to make amends for past deeds.
In Denmark, Corban becomes entangled once more in the political schemes surrounding the thrones of Denmark and Norway. Sweyn Ericsson, illegitimate son of Eric Bluetooth, plots to overtake his father and seize the crown. Starry-eyed and eternally optimistic Conn throws himself without reservation behind Sweyn's cause. Raef, possessed of a wizard's abilities, follows cautiously behind Conn. Throughout it all, Corban struggles in vain to make sense of the intrigue and bloodshed. He wants only to return to his idyllic existence in Vinland, half a world away.
Holland possesses a superb eye for details, which she uses to craft vivid descriptions of both people and places. From an isolated homestead in Vinland to the teeming streets of Hedeby, Holland paints evocative and historically accurate accounts of the places through which her characters move. The characters themselves, from King of Norway to orphaned girl, stand out as individuals fully capable of a wide spectrum of finely spun emotions.
I liked this book. From the opening scene in which Corban, Conn and Raef are attacked by a shark while on a fishing trip, I felt myself in capable hands. The plotting remained sure, the characterization solid, and the descriptions beautiful. For anyone interested in the Viking Age or historical fiction in general, this book provides an exciting glimpse into a lost age. For all others, the masterful writing creates reason enough to enjoy this book.
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