Mother of Kings

Mother of Kings

5.0 2
by Poul Anderson

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Blending characters historical and mythological, science fiction and fantasy grandmaster Poul Anderson has crafted a novel of magic, mystery and the might of ancient nations to rival Marian Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon.

In the tenth century, during the violent end of the Age of the Vikings, Gunhild, the daughter of a Norse Chieftan, is sent away to


Blending characters historical and mythological, science fiction and fantasy grandmaster Poul Anderson has crafted a novel of magic, mystery and the might of ancient nations to rival Marian Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon.

In the tenth century, during the violent end of the Age of the Vikings, Gunhild, the daughter of a Norse Chieftan, is sent away to learn the magic of a pair of Shamans. She learns her lessons well, and uses her power to summon her hearts desire, Eirlik Blood-Ax. Gunhild's magic is a powerful compliment to Eirik's strength, but it is not enough to save him from death at the hands of his vicious rivals. Still, the sons they had will each become kings, and Gunhild's own struggles are far from over.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With Mother of Kings, Poul Anderson proves that he is indeed a master!"—Robert Jordan

"An unquestionably great work."—Kirkus Reviews

"This densely written, fast-paced tale . . . reads more like a grandly told history."—Publishers Weekly
When Gunhild, the daughter of a Norse chieftan, serves an apprenticeship with two shamanistic masters, she learns her lessons well. She uses her newfound power to call forth her heart's desire, Erik Blood-Ax. United, the pair can vanquish any opponent.
Publishers Weekly
Though marketed as fantasy, this densely written, fast-paced tale, set in Norway in the 10th century during the clash of paganism and Christianity, reads more like a grandly told history describing the life of Gunnhild, the mother of Norse kings. Its huge scope and the long time frame of events mean that the personal often gets lost in the political, but with meticulous research, Anderson (War of the Gods) brings to life the bloodthirsty Norse as they evolve into the looting, plundering Vikings of popular lore. After learning witchcraft from the Saami, Gunnhild schemes to marry a powerful Norse king, Eirik. The power behind the throne, she bears nine children, mostly boys, and ensures her husband's rule by weaving a web of spies and orchestrating a murder or two. When Eirik dies in battle, she works to further the careers of her sons, many of whom prove unworthy of leadership because of their tyranny, arrogance and stinginess. Less than engaging, global-level power struggles tend to take the place of individual conflicts, while the continually shifting point of view fragments any sustained emotional impact. Since some of the rival kings are far more appealing characters than Gunnhild's progeny, readers may find themselves rooting for them instead. This may well be what the author intended, but the result is as incongruous as the witchcraft that while interesting does little to further the plot. Norse scholars will be pleased, but those expecting another Mists of Avalon, about a strong woman at the cusp of Christianity and paganism, will be disappointed. (Sept. 27) FYI: The late Poul Anderson has a second novel this season, a reissue of Conan the Rebel, reviewed above. Copyright 2001Cahners Business Information.
Against a backdrop of the violence of tenth-century Vikings, the story of Gunhild, the daughter of a Norse chieftain, and her husband, Eirick Blood-Ax, is explored in this often difficult-to-read novel of intrigue, lust, and power seeking. Gunhild, the Mother of Kings, was sent from her father's house to learn the magic ways of two shamans. She learned her lessons well and now uses her magic to draw to herself the man she desires, Eirick Blood-Ax. Their union produces several sons and one daughter. Although Eirick dies young in a bloody battle, Gunhild and her children continue the violent search for power and control throughout their lands. Her sons become kings and Gunhild advances many plots and strategies to help her sons advance their control. Packed with unfamiliar names and places, this novel is demanding reading. The reader must keep track of an abundance of warriors who have similar sounding names and places that are totally unfamiliar. The final edition will include maps that should help the reader keep track of who is going where on the constant quest for riches and lands. Teens might be discouraged from completing the story because of the confusion of names and intrigue, and only very determined readers will be able to persevere through it to the conclusion. Anderson's afterword does provide explanations for much of the story and helps ground the action in its historical era. VOYA CODES:3Q 3P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects;Will appeal with pushing;Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12;Adult and Young Adult). 2001, Tor, 384p, $27.95. Ages 15 to Adult. Reviewer:Rosemary Moran—VOYA, December 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 5)
Library Journal
As the daughter of a Norse chieftain, Gunhild sets her ambitions high to learn the ways of shamanic magic and to wed Eirik Blood-Ax and lead him to the throne of a newly united Norway. The late sf Grand Master and Nebula Award-winning author of The Boat of a Million Years, along with numerous other works, adds an element of myth and pagan magic to a true story set in the tenth century, as the advent of Christianity in Scandinavia spells the end of a violent and heroic way of life. Fans of historical fantasy and Norse mythology should appreciate this well-crafted tale of epic adventure. Recommended for most fantasy collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A ponderous, meandering, but unquestionably great work. Science-fiction grandmaster Anderson, who died of cancer in August, was renowned among postwar SF writers for his elaborately detailed future worlds and his uneven, albeit prolific, output of novels about clever, marginal characters who find themselves whirled into the center of vastly complicated historical and political events. A voracious scholar of Scandinavian languages, history, and mythology, Anderson based many of his stories on plots and characters lifted from Norse sagas. Mother of Kings is a direct reworking of tales about Gunnhild Ozuradottir, the historical wife of tenth-century Norse King Eirik Haraldsson Blood-Axe, who bore him nine children before his murder. Spanning a grim, unforgivingly primitive landscape reaching from Iceland to arctic Norway, down to England and east to Russia, it is mainly about Gunnhild, a child of a minor Norse warlord, who barely escapes a rape and then persuades her father Ozur to let her study sorcery with a pair of Finnish wizards. When the wizards become far too friendly, she makes a pact with Thorolf Skallagrimson, brother of the scheming, brutishly violent Egil (whose sagas are the earliest source for Gunnhild), to slay the wizards. Thorolf introduces her to Eirik, whom she glimpsed in a vision and quickly marries. While Eirik plunges into increasingly treacherous maneuvers for control of the unraveling empire of King Harald, Gunnhild uses her sorcery and increasingly astute political savvy to survive a series of intrigues. Though powerful beyond her dreams, Gunnhild fails to control her fractious brood and flees to the Orkney Islands. Episodic adventure in a visceral, peculiarlyarchaic language ("Soon after the knarr turned in there, it was sail down, oars out and Skeggi at the tiller") with far too many similarly named characters. Still, a worthy effort through it all.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.28(d)

Read an Excerpt


Wind snarled and skirled. Smoke from the longfire eddied bitter on its way upward, hazing lamps throughout the hall. Shadows flickered. They seemed to bring the carvings on pillars and wainscots to uneasy life. Nightfall came fast at the end of these shortening days. Soon there would be nothing but night.

"Go find the knife before high tide bears it off," Father told Seija. "It's a good blade. I'd hate to lose it."

"I—maybe no can," she said in her broken Norse.

Father grinned. "You can try. Don't you Finns have witch-sight?"

Already his mood was better. He had cuffed the thrall who forgetfully left the tool behind at sunset after having cleaned some fish down by the water. With kicks he had sent the wretch stumbling toward the byre, where bondsmen slept among cows. That cooled his wrath.

"I try," Seija muttered. She could ill say no, a mere woods-runner lately brought to Ulfgard for Father to bed.

Nonetheless, new and strange, she had caught Gunnhild's eager heed. "I'll go too!" the girl cried.

Mother half rose from the high seat she shared with Father. "You will not," she answered. "A child of seven winters? A granddaughter of Rögnvald Jarl, trotting after a Finn? Hush your witlessness."

"I would know better," said brother Eyvind loftily. "Unless, of course, a foe was upon us."

Gunnhild stamped her foot on the clay floor. "I will; I will."

Özur grinned anew, wryly now. It's not worth a fight, as headstrong as you are," he deemed. "Take a warm cloak and keep dry, or I shall be angry. Yngvar, watch her."

The man nodded and went for his own cloak and a spear. Kraka leaned back with a sigh. She was a haughty one, whose husband mostly let her do what she wanted to, but she had learned not to gainsay him.

The three passed through entryroom and door. Gunnhild stopped on the flagstones. Wind yelled. Astounded, she let go of her woolen mantle. It flapped back like wings. "O-o-oh," she breathed.

The sky was a storm of northlights. They shuddered and billowed, huge frost-cold banners and sails, whiteness streaked with ice blue, flame red, cat's-eye green. Their silence scorned every noise of earth. A few stars glimmered low and lonely southward.

Seija stretched forth an arm from her wrap. Her fingers writhed. Through the wind Gunnhild heard her sing, a high wailing in her unknown tongue.

"What's that?" asked the girl. Chill bit. She gathered her garb close.

"I make safe. Ghosts dance. Many strong ghosts."

Gunnhild had seen northlights before, though none like these. "I heard—Father told us—it's the watchfires of the gods."

"Troll-fires, I think," growled Yngvar. He drew the sign of the Hammer.

Seija stilled her spellcraft and led the way down the path from the hall and its outbuildings. While no moon was aloft, one could see almost clearly. They reached the strand. The woman walked to and fro, hunched, head bent so that the cowl made her faceless, casting about. Maybe she whispered. Tide had washed away the fish guts and scales that would have helped. Only a narrow stretch of cobbles was left, sheening wet. Kelp sprawled in swart heaps and ropes. The wind scattered its sharp smell.

Gunnhild stayed beside Yngvar. Awe rolled over her.

Behind, the bank lifted steeply to where the roof of the hall loomed black, with ridges and crests hoar beyond. On her right the wharf jutted alongside the ship-house, two darknesses. Nighted likewise were the heights across the inlet. Even here, waves ran wild, spume blowing off their manes, stones grinding underneath. They broke a ways off. The water then rushed at the land, poured back with a hollow roar, and came again, farther each time. Peering past this as the wind lashed tears from her eyes, she saw the open fjord gone berserk, outward to the sea. Northlight shimmered and flashed over it.

A thrilling passed through Gunnhild. The mightiness!

Seija halted. She took off her cloak, weighted it with her shoes, raised her skirt, and waded out. The flow dashed halfway to her knees. Spindrift flew, a salt rain. She bent down to grope. After a little, she straightened. Something gleamed in her hand. She went ashore. Drenched, her gown clung to a short, sturdy frame. Running to meet her, Gunnhild saw that she held a bone-hafted knife, surely the knife. "We go home," she said.

Gunnhild stood wondersmitten. Witch-sight indeed? Yet the woman shivered with cold and the night dwarfed her.

A fire-streak lanced into the sea. Gunnhild gasped. She had never beheld a falling star so lightninglike ablaze.

"There Odin cast his spear." Yngvar's voice was not altogether steady. Did he believe what he said? At the end of the world, all the stars will fall from heaven.

Seija sang a stave. What did she think? She made for the path. At the top waited warm earthly fire. Gunnhild lingered till Yngvar urged her along. She wanted to show the Beings who raved abroad that she was not afraid. She would not let herself be afraid.

Copyright © 2001 by Trigonier Trust

What People are saying about this

Greg Bear
Mother of Kings is Poul Anderson at the top of his game. As enthralling as The Mists of Avalon! Poul Anderson shows himself to be the true modern heir of those who wrote the sagas that inspired Tolkien and laid down the foundations of modern fantasy.
Kevin Anderson
Mother of Kings is a classic from one of the most influential writers of all time.
Walter Jon Williams
Poul Anderson's new epic is a convincing glimpse into the past, filled withn authentic sights and sounds of the Viking Age, and told in a language that echoes the genius of the Icelandic bards.
Robert Jordan
With Mother of Kings Poul Anderson proves that he is indeed a master!

Meet the Author

The bestselling author of such classic novels as Brain Wave and The Boat of a Million Years, Poul Anderson won just about every award the science fiction and fantasy field has to offer. He has won multiple Hugos and Nebulas, the John W. Campbell Award, The Locus Poll Award, the Skylark Award, and the SFWA Grandmaster Award for Lifetime Achievement. His recent books include Harvest of Stars, The Stars are also On Fire, Operation Chaos, Operation Luna, Genesis, Mother of Kings, and Going for Infinity, a collection and retrospective of his life's work. Poul Anderson lived in Orinda, California where he passed away in 2001.

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Mother of Kings 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
In the tenth century, Gunnhild, daughter of a Norse chieftain, learns her lessons quite well as a child. Her father¿s concubine teaches her how witchcraft can aid and protect a female from men. The death of her mother teaches her to never yield to male ogres and their demands and commands. Gunnhild vows to never be a weak female dependent on the other sex for safety and comfort.

To attain her goal of total independence, Gunnhild trains under witches and sorcerers learning the crafts. She marries the only man she ever felt affection for, Eirik Blood-Ax. Together with their strengths and iron-wills, they will either forge a dynasty that legends will whisper about for millenniums to come or fade to dust under the relentless attack of their enemies who want this union to fail.

Poul Anderson is already a legend among speculative fiction readers and authors. Yet his latest dark tale, MOTHER OF KINGS, shows why the recently deceased author has been revered for decades and the recipient of so many prestigious awards. The genre¿s guru blends mythology and history into a powerhouse of a tale that tells readers the story of Gunnhild, a real persona who has received legendary status over the last millennium. The gritty but vivid story line provides a powerful look at the tenth century as rarely seen by literature except perhaps Beowulf and that is a few centuries earlier. The beginning of the end of the Age of the Vikings is fitting posthumous triumph from one of the greats.

Harriet Klausner