Circa 800 AD, Osric cannot remember life before his wretched existence in a Wessex coastal village. When two long ships arrive, their crewmen under Jarl Sigurd are willing to trade but fear leads to treachery and the obliteration of the villagers. Osric is taken alive on board the long ship Serpent—unaccountably he knows the language of the heathen Norsemen. As graceful Serpent and her sister ship ride an almighty storm at sea, Osric has the gruelling experience of becoming an oarsman, then learning how to use the lethal weapons beloved of these ferocious men: an honourable death in battle will ensure their place with the gods in Valholl. Osric, now called Raven, must match their skill; eventually he excels.
When Sigurd’s ships are impounded the Norsemen are forced by the Christians of Wessex to undertake the quest for a priceless Holy Book. In scenes of merciless cruelty, coarse, brutal and relishing bloodshed, the Norse warriors fight their way inland fiercely opposed by Welsh and Mercians.
I believed every word of this utterly macho story with its powerful, crude language and relentless, sometimes sickening violence. And yet Giles Kristian’s writing is shot through with imagery of startling beauty and precision. Osric-Raven gives readers a hint that Jarl Sigurd yearns for something greater than a life focussed on fields of blood. But what? The sequel has already been written.