Kings of the North
Kings of the North opens with England being ruled ineffectively by Ethelred, his sons ripe for rebellion, and the Danes poised for usurpation. Meanwhile, young Knut, future king of England, bides his time as an English ward, learning survival and leadership skills as he closely watches the machinations of the adults around him. Amid the chaos, two men and a girl arrive on shore planning to go to Jorvik (York), but evil in the form of Queen Emma not only waylays them, but threatens England itself. Tension mounts as all these stories build toward an epic collision for domination of the English.
Holland’s story is a masterpiece as it deftly showcases several different viewpoints, including those of Emma, Prince Edmund, Knut, and Raef Corbanson, a member of the trio returning to Raef’s childhood home. Raef is a mystical man; his ability to have his spirit leave his body gives him a unique perspective into the evil that inhabits the body of Queen Emma. It is this evil, known as The Lady, that stirs much of the conflict among the men vying for control of the English, and Raef knows it will ultimately destroy everyone if he cannot find a way to stop it.
This is the sort of story that envelops you as you read; rich in detail and vibrant characterizations, it breathes life into a distant time period and deposits you squarely in the middle of the action. With men changing sides frequently and backstabbing rampant, this story really did not need the addition of mysticism, and I found it a little distracting as I tried to keep names and events straight. Also, it is a sequel to The High City, and I felt a bit lost not having read first. Kings of the North stands well on its own, however, and is deliciously full of fighting, betrayal, and history literally leaping off its pages.