King of the North (Fire Born, 4)

Written by Angus Donald
Review by Chiara Prezzavento

In 777 AD in the northern part of Svealand (part of modern-day Sweden), shield-maiden Torfinna Hildarsdottir takes her oath as captain to the troops of her lord, Jarl Starki of Norrland. Tor’s half-brother, the famous berserker Bjarki Bloodhand, isn’t overly happy to see his beloved sister tied for life into a subordinate position, especially because King Harald is old, and succession politics are already vicious – but, after much wandering and adventuring, Tor is ready for a more stable life as the Jarl’s captain. Until the king dies, and his power-hungry successor, Sigurd Hring, makes a bid for the ancient title of King of the North, disregarding the traditional allegiance to the King of the Danes. This means war, of course – against King Siegfried of Dane-Mark, and against Bjarki, whom Siegfried just made his vassal as King of Vastergotland. How will the siblings do, finding themselves on opposing sides, both sworn into a complex web of allegiance, friendship, love, and ambition?

Fourth in a series, King of the North is a vigorous, adventurous tale, full of well-drawn characters, and the author does a great job of recreating the cold setting and rather brutal culture, with its complexities of social ties and religion. He also takes, as is explained in the historical note, some considerable liberties with the (admittedly sketchy) sources – and perhaps the shield-maiden heroine is one of them – but it’s all done in good and well-informed fun. A very engaging read.