The Traitors’ Pit

Written by V M Whitworth
Review by Nancy Henshaw

Subdeacon Wulfgar “Soft Hands,” fortunate in his employment as Secretary to Fleda, Lady of the Mercians, suffers a dual disruption. Her cousin, Seiriol the Atheling, is accused of planning the death of King Edward, and Wulfgar’s brother has been condemned for his part in the plot. Wulfgar, innocent and inexperienced, is propelled as hostage into a ferocious power struggle, a horrified witness to treachery and massacre.

Two survivors emerge as leaders: Edward, King of Wessex, and the charismatic Atheling. Both are ruthless. Wulfgar’s abilities as a scribe make him useful, and he is protected by his own innocence. He asks for what he wants: a fair trial for his brother, and, for his Lady Fleda, the Atheling’s recognition of her rights as Lady of Mercia. Wulfgar is a young man born to be despised by the loudmouthed bullies who flourish at a time when England is in the process of being forged into a nation, but he does have true friends. Can he count amongst them the wealthy Norwegian merchant, Gunnvor “Cat’s Eyes” Bolladottir? If this competent woman holds him in contempt, why do their paths cross so often?

Wulfgar is a daydreamer who is prone to withdraw into his own thoughts when vital discussions are taking place, but endurance of a terrifying ordeal, great personal grief and implacable malice leave him stronger and wiser. In this sequel to The Bone Thief, detailed descriptions of religious buildings, depictions of city life and the author’s specialised knowledge of a somewhat unfamiliar period in history enhance the suspenseful story.