Instead of being in the foreground of WILDSWEPT, as one might expect, the war formed a slightly edgy backdrop to a story about the relationships that the heirs to Ceridwen, Sidroc, Godwin and Gyric – 16-year-old Edwin, Jarl of Kilton, his elder (half) brother) Ceric (in his early twenties) and 18-year-old Hrald (Harald), Jarl of Four Stones, – are forging amongst themselves and their young women.
Hrald’s elder sister, Ashild, is the protagonist of this volume. At 20 years old, she has beauty, presence and more importantly ambition. It is her ambition that drives this story. Instead of meekly going to her destiny of being peace-weaver-wife to Ceric of Kilton (who rather desperately wants her to marry him), Ashild insists on staying at her girlhood home of Four Stones. Why? Because she (not-so-secretly) wishes to be Jarl of Four Stones herself. This decision is even more surprising given that she is expecting Ceric’s child.
At this point, I wondered about the reactions of those around her. Ashild tells her family about her condition, and they are so nice to her. I understand why her mother, a gentle woman, would be supporting and loving.
But her brother? Her uncle?
No way. Not in 1891, not in 1791, not in 1691, or 1591, or 1491, and certainly not in 891. Women were treated with the greatest contempt and if they didn’t like the future chosen for them by their men, were forced (physically abused) to make them obey. After all, Book 1 of the Circle of Cerdiwen opens with Ashild’s mother Elfwyn being sold against her will in marriage as part of a peace treaty with a marauding Viking war chief.
No-one had much sympathy for Elfwyn, who was wed to a violent thug at age 16, despite her gentle nature. Her wedding night must have been traumatic and terrifying. Ashild is made of much tougher material and her intended already adores her. So why aren’t the men of her family demanding that she go to Kilton immediately, as it will benefit everyone?
And this is where the story lost me, because it seems perfectly obvious that of course Ashild will go to Kilton and wed Ceric, and this whole thing about her shilly-shallying about her destiny is way too modern for ninth-century England, and not that interesting.
And then there is Dagmar, daughter of a Viking King, and suitable in every way to be bride to Hrald of Four Stones. Except that her father left her nothing. Which is a problem as the whole point of these dynastic marriages are the gold and treasure that the brides bring to enrich their new husband’s family. Attractive and poised as she is, can Hrald really afford to marry someone who has literally nothing?
But Hrald is such a pleasant young man, and so besotted with Dagmar (as we are told repeatedly.) His mother (Elfwyn) is so gentle, his men are respectful. Only his uncle has misgivings, but even he doesn’t carry on. In short, there is no doubt that Hrald will marry Dagmar.
But we have to wait until the next volume to find out what really happens. Five stars for the sensuous prose, wonderful characters and marvelous descriptions. One star for plot, storyline and pacing.