The story of Gunnhild, Queen of Norway and of England
I loved Mother of Kings, a long family saga about (mostly) real people of the tenth century. I was enthralled with the devious machinations of Gunnhild, the ‘mother’ from the title, and the manner in which author, Poul Anderson presents the material.
Mother of Kings blends mythology and history into a dramatic, gritty and fascinating story that tells of Gunnhild, a real woman and Queen of legendary status.
As a child, Gunnhild learns the ways of ‘witchcraft’ from a Finnish concubine of her father, a powerful Norse chieftain. As she matures into a young woman she learns the relationship between the powerful and the weak and becomes a spaewife, learning the crafts of magic and sorcery. She is a Knower of the Gods.
Gunnhild married Erik Blood-Axe and with their combined determination of ruthlessness they forged a dynasty whose legends last into modern times. She bears Erik nine children, all equally ambitious, though not equally clever. Eirik and Gunnhild briefly become King and Queen of England, but in this cruel and dangerous era, rivalries abound, and no one who seizes power can ever hope to hold it for long.
Comparisons have been made with The Mists of Avalon, but Gunnhild is too ruthless to be another Morgaine, and Mother of Kings is more historical than mystical (or fantastical).
Is this an historical novel, set in the tenth century as remembered by the Icelanders in the thirteenth century? Or perhaps it’s a fantasy novel based on medieval Icelandic imagination about the past.
Who can tell when it comes to Poul Anderson, he wrote so many novels based on Icelandic sagas, some more imaginative than others. But from either point of view, the book is superb, an astonishing success.
Readers who love Anderson or have a fascination with Scandinavian culture will adore ever moment of it, and for the casual reader unused to saga-literature, it’s worth reading as an introduction to the genre, and to meeting a remarkable, if possibly not lovable, woman.
This is a long book, covering a great deal of family history and, at times, I really thought I was reading an English translation of a genuine saga.