Mother of Kings by Poul Anderson

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Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, lived in the 10th century AD. What we know of her life, which sounds pretty dramatic, comes from the Scandinavian sagas. A lot of the facts are disputed, but Poul Anderson did a superb job of deciding what he thought was the most likely and turning it into a historical novel. Some of it does stray into the realms of fantasy, with the idea that Gunnhild practised some sort of witchcraft, but it worked well. It’s all such a tangle – there are so many kings and queens and jarls, and an awful lot of them seem to be called either Harald, Haakon, Olaf or Eirik, and he did a brilliant job of turning it into a book which wasn’t too difficult to follow! He also did a particularly good job of showing how people tried to come to terms with both the traditional ideas of the Norse gods and the new ideas of Christianity.

The Norse sagas are intriguing … history and mythology combined. Do you try to disentangle one from the other, or do you accept that the two are combined?

This was a very good, and not particularly easy, read. The Americanisms grated on me a bit, but the author was American so I can’t really complain about that! Now I need to tackle the Heimskringla directly!

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