Yet again Kay succeeds in creating a wonderful, fantastical version of history. This time he takes an alternate Britain being raided by the Vikings. It is set in the same alternate-Europe that The Lions of Al-Rassan was based in. But far to the north of Al-Rassan we find a much different world; one where Erlings launch raids on Anglcyn and Cyngael, two peoples who share the same island, but who also have their own differences.
Unlike many fantasy novels you will not find any great quest. No one sets out to save the world, there is no all-powerful evil to defeat. Instead the novel focuses on a wide range of characters whose lives intersect at various places and times, and through whose experiences we come to know Kay’s alternate world.
Kay also introduces characters whose lives are affected by the events that are more central to the novel, briefly telling their stories over a few pages before returning to the main characters. The reason, I think, is to highlight how ordinary people’s lives go on no matter the great events. Yes these events have great impact, but life goes on. Always has and always will. History is not just something that happens because of kings and generals, but it is the story of ordinary people. Kay also uses these stories to make a point, to tell the reader something;
It happens this way. Small things, accidents of timing and congruence: and then all that flows in our lives from such moments owes its unfolding course, for good or ill, to them. We walk (or stumble) along paths laid down by people and events of which we remain forever ignorant.
Overall I enjoyed this book, the different ways of life, the characters never felt forced or false, but I never found any that I found so fascinating I’d skim other stories. The closest to a character like that was Alun ab Owyn, a prince of the Cyngael who had quite an encounter in a calm, still pool one moonless night.