So, book two sees blacksmith, thrall, carl, jarl, chief, king, inventor, victor over the Great Viking Army, and router of the feared Frankish cavalry, Shef, facing another test of his liberal ways and, conversely, his antidisestablishmentarianism. For the church is about to send in the Holy Knights of the Lance, whose symbol, the spear that pierced the side of Christ, is an artefact for which their leader, fearsome warrior of God, Bruno, searches to inspire Christendom to victory over the heathens of the Asgarth Way, the new religion of knowledge that has taken hold in the power vacuum of England. And of course, that's not to mention the hovering threat of the revengeful Ragnarssons, whose ire and wrath still patrol northern waters, looking for an opportunity to visit death and destruction upon the killer of their father Ragnar Lodbrok, and brother, Ivar the Boneless.
And Shef has itchy feet.
So, of course, he leaves his kingdom in the capable hands of Wessex monarch Alfred, with whom he shares England (and, gasp! his first love Godive, who now hates Shef deeply and viscerally), and naffs off up north for a bit of naval entertainment.
Again, Harrison shaves very close to a state of affairs which would be an affront to those particularly loving the whole alternative history thing. I'm not fond of all the magic. Too often for my liking do the Gods make actual appearances rather than being simply alluded to, particularly around the unfolding narrative of Shef being the agent for Ragnarok, or at least that Odin suspects he is, whereas Shef's divine 'father', the seldom mentioned god Rig, counsels the contrary, whilst plotting to free Loki from his chains and the torture of serpent venom dripping onto his face. There's some gubbins about strange other-worldly folk living in the fjords and that they can talk to orcas, and here I wonder if John Holm a.k.a Tom Shippey has been given leave to start leaning in with all his pent-up Tolkien mythos. Maybe to make up for his name slipping off the front cover and having to make do with an honourable mention on the title page... But even with all these minor gripes, it's hard not to root for the waspish Englishmen and the giant Norsemen, as they battle ever increasing odds, fearsome enemies whose learning starts to match that of their foes, and their own latent fear of Shef's divine nature. Book two holds enough rambunctiousness and swashbuckling adventure to keep the attention sharp and the sighs few and far between.