This is the story of Harald Hardraada, half-brother to the King of Norway, who leads his Viking mercenaries on a brutal raid on the convent of Les Trois Etoiles in Brittany. The nuns are raped and murdered, among them Clothilde, who had acted as a foster‑mother to the noble‑born but unwanted cripple child, Ranulf de Lannion. Ranulf kills Clothilde’s attacker, which impresses Harald. The boy is abducted and renamed the Scraeling (native) and as they journey across land and sea he learns their language. He can also read and write and speak German and Greek languages fluently, so he is used as a secretary and interpreter – roles that erase his fear of the Vikings and give him a sense of purpose. His other purpose is to avenge Clothilde’s death, however long it takes.
Harald is renowned for combining fearlessness, ferocity and ruthlessness as he lays waste to all the territories he overcomes. He fights battles, topples kings, ravages lands and masters the seas. When they journey to Byzantium he becomes the King of Norway by using the Kievan Rus, the Emperor of Contantinople’s Royal Guard. He becomes romantically embroiled with the 56-year-old Empress Zoë, who sees him as a prospective father for her future progeny. The Scraeling assists her niece Eudokia, and is then seduced by her, unaware that she has a plot of her own to please Zoë.
When King Edward dies, Harald returns to England with his sights on the throne. Harold Godwinson and his son, Tostig, contest his right and confront him on a battlefield outside of York, watched by the cunning Scraeling.
This is intricately plotted and informative, but not for those readers who are sensitive or easily offended.