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A Gathering Of Ravens

Scott Oden
It is the year AD 999 in Sjælland where Njall is now a Christian and does not consider the current storm to be a punishment from his former gods but it is still something to contend with as he, young Aidan and the donkey battle their way from Seal Reef to Roskilde. Aidan intends to be a sort of priest assisting Father Gunnar at Roskilde but the journey has not been a good one so far since leaving Wessex and, although still somewhat superstitious of the old ways, Njall is persuaded by Aidan to take shelter in a large cave. Unfortunately the cave is home to Grimnir and the old way rule of hospitality is such that, after a night of shelter, Njall is left for dead. It also happens that Aidan is actually a young female worshipper of Christ named Étain and is taken as a form of hostage to guide Grimnir to Wessex in his quest for vengeance.

Grimnir is a unique being, possibly the last of the breed of monsters known to the Danes as skrælingr, to the Irish as fomoraig, and to the Anglo-Saxons as orcnéas but he does possess an unusual code of honour, one which requires him to find, and kill, Bjarki Half-Dane who killed Grimnir’s brother. He knows the ways of the old and drags Étain along with him to find something called the Ash Road which will enable them to travel through both space and time in order to reach Wessex.

Their journey is not easy but eventually they find, and walk, the Ash Road which leads them to Heathen’s Howe in the south of Wessex only to find they have travelled not only from Denmark to England but also to a later time. They also realise that the Saxons have no love for anyone who might be a Dane and endure further adventures and hardships before arriving at Badon where they discover that Bjarki Half-Dane is now somewhere in the Gaelic kingdom of Leinster south of Dubhlinn. At this point an unusual alliance exists between Grimnir and Étain as can be seen during the time she finds herself being treated as a spy and to be tortured by Hrothmund in the transept of the cathedral of Badon. The Lord of Badon, Hrothmund, is an unusual person and having converted to Christianity believes all non-believers must killed in such a way that they repent but he is still sought by the spirits of old for being an oathbreaker and Grimnir intends to use that fact in order to assist Étain.

On arriving in Ireland the two find both witches and magic during Grimnir’s search for Bjarki Half Dane and become embroiled in the war between the now Christian Irish and the Danes with their old ways. It is here that Grimnir finally meets the one he seeks and Étain is surprised at several occurrences, one being that forms of magic still exist in Ireland.

The story is written with an emphasis on the changing of religion from the old gods and magic to the faith of Christianity using, on one hand the trust in Christianity and on the other, a monster of the last of the old ways, an Orc and the old methods of witchcraft and magic of which there is still evidence. The author notes that Grimnir was deliberately written in as a form of Tolkien type of Orc but it is surprising to discover how the two principals seem to develop throughout from beginning to end.

I cannot really find any fault at all with this book and as a novel about historical fantasy with the attendant magic and monsters it is certainly worth reading from that point of view. The whole thing is well written and descriptive with considerable attention to detail.

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