The Witches’ Kitchen

Written by Cecelia Holland
Review by Ilysa Magnus

This is the second installment of the Corban Loosestrife series (after The Soul Thief) set in and around tenth century Vinland and Jorvik.

After killing Jorvik’s king, Eric Bloodaxe, fifteen years earlier, Corban relocated himself and his family – his beloved wife, Benna, their children, his sister, Mav, and her child, Raef – to a remote, windswept, idyllic island off Vinland. Corban’s plans to remain on the island forever are dashed by a number of events, including the arrival of a Viking ship. With so much at stake on his little island, and the tug and pull of blood oaths in Jorvik, Corban finds himself compelled to leave the women behind and sail with his son, Conn, and nephew, Raef, to the place to which he swore he would never return.

Soon, Conn and Raef are separated from Corban and the story takes on another life – one centered on the two young men who, having tasted power and war, mature very quickly. The interplay between these two boys is wonderful to behold, and Holland finds just the right balance. And while the boys fight their way to power with their friend, Sweyn, who will become King, Corban fights his way back to the boys.

This novel is a marvelous blend of historical fact, fiction and fantasy, though not as gripping or cohesive in plot as The Soul Thief. Also, though not mandatory, this is one of those cases in which the reader probably should read The Soul Thief first. That said, this is vintage Holland, where the characters are well-developed and the emotional components of the story trigger the events rather than the other way around. Even well-documented historical figures like Sweyn and Gunnhild are fleshed out. They feel, they think, they hurt, they want.

For all interested in historical fiction and Nordic lore, a required read.