In The Raven & The Cross, Erik Bloodaxe returns in suitable rampaging style. Previously we followed him extinguish opposition, in the shape of his brothers, to claim the kingship of Norway only to have it snatched away by the machinations of King Aethelstan of England and bequeathed to Erik’s Christian half-brother, Hakon.
Erik isn’t going to sit back and accept such a fate, he has loyal Hirdsmen, a wife and sons, and most crucially of all – the destiny to be a king five times over, as foretold to him by a seer. But how?
He has found sanctuary in Denmark with his brother-in-law, Gorm and joins him on campaign against the Swedes. However Eric has an appetite for fame-wealth and he knows, somehow, he will be a king again, as do others. Athelstan offers Erik the kingdom of Northumbria in England but Erik suspects this offer is merely to keep him in check and ensure he doesn’t threaten Hakon’s throne. It would also make him the king of England’s puppet.
Instead the Jarldom of the Orkneys offers great opportunity for wealth and plunder. Since the weakening of dynasties during a terrible war, in which Aethelstan successfully defeated an alliance of Dublin Norse and Strathclyde Britons, a power vacuum exists that can be exploited. The Orkneys are perfected situated on the sea lanes for a Viking Sea King to ply his trade and build his reputation.
Erik’s exploits will take him from Dublin to Portugal, but despite King Aethelstan’s heirs styling themselves as Kings of all the English, and carrying imperial ambition for the whole of Britain; Northumbrian separatism ensures that the Erik may still be king there , but on his own terms. Such a move would require accepting Christianity, but Erik is nothing but a pragmatist, and he needs to be accepted as king by both Norsemen and Anglo-Danish Northumbrians (both of Berncia and Deira). The king of Wessex may have other ideas however…
As readers we have been well served by Mr May of late. The Raven and the Cross is the second of the Eric Haraldsson series to be released in 2018 – 2 books in one year – that’s dedication; especially when it’s plain to see the meticulous research that has gone into these books. C R May has fleshed out Erik’s life from scant sources, but has been able to explore and expand on events mentioned in the saga of the Blóðøx and bring them to life.
|The Norns Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld under the world oak Yggdrasil. Illustration, 1882 by Ludwig Burger via wikipedia|
As ever with this author’s masterly word-craft we are treated to a wonderful recreation of the Viking world, with all its customs and beliefs and bloody brutal glory. The tapestry of Erik’s life is skilfully woven, as if it were by the very Norns themselves. There is action on land and sea with Erik the energetic warrior he ever was, so much so that the book speeds along; you daren’t put it down. The previous book dealt with Erik and his headlong rush to win his father’s throne with the blade of his axe – Jomal; however the experience of losing his throne through politics has made an altogether different Erik than the one driven by tempestuous youth.
Erik is a brave and ruthless warrior, unforgiving of disloyalty; yet the loss of long trusted hirdsmen, either by death or age catching up with them, has made a wiser, more philosophical individual. He can win a kingdom but now he’s learning how to actually be a king and the requirements of statecraft. A warrior may build a fearsome reputation, but a great king constructs a legacy.
It’s clear that the author lives and breathes this world, his love of the period shines through. For those of us who have enjoyed the work of CR May there’s a nice little easter egg hidden within the pages of The Raven and The Cross linking this series to previous ones he’s written. Book two of a trilogy this may be but it can still stand alone on its own terms. We all need to start somewhere and if you haven’t read any of CR May’s books before, I would happily recommend that this be the one to begin with; but you wouldn’t want to deny yourselves others, would you? So stand with Erik Blóðøx and hear Jomal’s deadly wail. “Óðinn owns you all!”
|Image from cgtrader.com|
The Raven and The Cross is available from Amazon