Pit of Vipers
(Sons of Kings #2)
By Millie Thom
By Millie Thom
In Pit of Vipers, the second book in the Sons of Kings trilogy, the lives of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia continue to unfold against the ever increasing threat of Danish raids.
Now back in his homeland, Eadwulf sets out on his determined quest for revenge, whilst Alfred’s leadership skills develop at the courts of his successive brothers. Before long, those skills will be put to the test . . .
The Danish invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 865 is merciless and relentless. Every year more Norse ships come to join their comrades in a quest to plunder for wealth and gain domination over the people.
The Wessex king is now Aethelred, Alfred’s last surviving brother, and Alfred becomes his trusted second-in-command. Whilst the Danes take kingdom after kingdom, the brothers wait with baited breath for them to set their sights on Wessex.
By 869 their worst fear is realised.
In the meantime, Eadwulf pursues the objects of his revenge.
“How those great leaders would grieve to see their kingdom so assailed…”
Some men die with a weapon in their hands and such deaths are to be celebrated for those warriors will sit in Oden’s Great Hall in Valhalla. For Ragnar Lothbrok there was no sword, no axe, just a pit filled with venomous vipers. As the venom seeped into his veins, Ragnar yelled these words:
“How the little pigs would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffered.”
King Aelle and his men laughed at Ragnar’s words, but Eadwulf did not. Eadwulf knew that the sons of Ragnar would seek their revenge and when they did, they would wipe that smile from King Aelle’s face. The sons of Ragnar would turn Aelle’s kingdom into something that resembled the Christian Hell. King Aelle had not conquered an enemy. He had started a war.
It was said that God favoured the younger son of the late King Aethelwulf. Alfred of Wessex wasn’t so sure because if God truly favoured him then why was he so inflicted by excruciating pain? Moreover, why had God chosen to make the reign of his brothers so short? Now everyone looked to Alfred’s beloved brother, Aethelred, to lead and protect the Kingdom of Wessex. However, there were rumours of a great Danish army led by Ivar, son of Ragnar, marching on Northumbria. Alfred can only hope and pray that once Ivar has had his revenge, he will leave the rest of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in peace. But, if Ivar chooses to stay, then may the Lord have mercy on their souls.
From the cold and harrowing death of a Norse hero in a Northumbrian pit of snakes to the desperate battle on the plains of Salisbury, Pit of Vipers: Sons of Kings #2 by Millie Thom is an exemplary work of historical fiction.
Thom certainly deserves praise for her enthralling narrative and her authentic historical background. Thom has skilfully embroidered together the known history of this time along with the Old Norse poetry and sagas, which makes Pit of Vipers not only an incredibly powerful tale but also a compellingly epic adventure.
There is a little of everything in this book — heroes, villains, hate, love, wit and a good dose of irony — which keeps the reader not only engaged but enthralled. Thom is a born storyteller, and her masterful style pulls you right in. I found myself back in the Dark Ages with these fascinating characters during which can only be described as a very turbulent and uncertain time.
Pit of Vipers is the story of the almost desperate but incredibly heroic Prince Alfred (who would later become known as Alfred the Great) against the seemingly invincible Ivar and his Great Army. Running alongside Alfred’s tale is the equally mesmerising story of Eadwulf, who seeks vengeance for the murder of his parents, in particular, his mother. I adored Alfred. He is such a gentle soul. However, he is not afraid to fight for his kingdom, and there are hints of the King that he will become. Likewise, Eadwulf has come a long way from his desperate situation in Shadow of the Raven: Sons of Kings #1. Eadwulf has his freedom, and now he is a husband and a father, and yet, his desire for revenge will not be quashed. His relationship with Bjorn Ironside continued to fascinate, and his story was utterly compelling.
Set in this harsh landscape of betrayal and mistrust, our heroes have to fight to stay alive. However, it is not all bloody battles and retribution. Thom paints a vivid portrait of what it was like to live during these times. The roles of women were explored in this book, along with the perils of childbirth. The suffering of the peasants under a Viking warlord was represented in all its terrible agony. All of which helps to gives Pit of Vipers legitimacy. This is a very believable presentation of this period in history.
There were times when I was left wondering who the real antagonist was — King Aelle, or Ivar the Boneless. If King Aelle had not executed Ragnar, then Ivar would not have brought his army across the sea seeking revenge. It is King Aelle’s actions which lead to terrible consequences for all, so does that make him an antagonist or just terribly naïve? It is quite a conundrum. Aelle’s treatment of Ragnar is deplorable, but then Ragnar was no hero to the Northumbrians. If only hindsight were a king, history, no doubt, would be very different! Ivar, in comparison, is a fierce and ruthless man, but he is also a shrewd strategist, and everything he does has a coldly calculated purpose, which makes his character all the more chilling to read about. I thought Ivar’s portrayal was wonderful.
I was fascinated by Ivar’s relationship with Halfdan. Halfdan is a warrior in his own right, but like everyone else, he lives in fear of his brother. It is only later on in the story that Halfdan comes into his own. Likewise, Bjorn’s relationship with his brothers is equally intriguing, as is his continuous relationship with Eadwulf. Of all the sons of Ragnar, it is Bjorn who comes across as the most honourable and certainly the most likeable!
Pit of Vipers: Sons of Kings #2 is an absolute must-read for fans of Michael Hirst’s fabulous Vikings series. This book hooks you in and leaves you wanting more. The pages practically turn themselves.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Millie Thom is a former geography and history teacher with a degree in geology and a particular passion for the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period. Originally from Lancashire she is a mother of six grown up children and now lives with her husband in a small village in Nottinghamshire, midway between the town of Newark and the lovely old city of Lincoln. When not writing, Millie enjoys long walks and is a serious fossil hunter. She is also an avid traveller, swimmer and baker of cakes!