Mother of Kings

Written by Poul Anderson
Review by Sarah Nesbeitt

Gunnhild, the daughter of a Norse chieftain, learns the ways of power early in life. Taught the art of spellcasting from a Finnish witch, she fuels her ambitions by marrying Eirik Blood-Axe, the favored son of Norway’s king, a lusty man who lives up to his nickname. She bears Eirik nine children, all equally ambitious, though not equally clever. Eirik and Gunnhild briefly become King and Queen of England, but in this cruel and dangerous era, rivalries abound, and no one who seizes power can ever hope to hold it for long.

Anderson’s depiction of the brutal Viking Age rings true. But the story is also poetic, stark, and saga-like, with names and relationships rolling off the page as if from a scroll, and at these times one can easily become lost. Comparisons have been made with The Mists of Avalon, but Gunnhild is too ruthless to be another Morgaine, and Mother of Kings is more historical than mystical (or fantastical). In addition, Gunnhild’s role is almost obscured in favor of that of her sons and their bloodthirsty exploits. Still, this is a dense but fulfilling story worth the read for those interested in the Viking era.