The tale begins in Ireland and tragic events lead the main character to Jorvik (York) and Hedby in England. No dates are given (that I recall), but the characters Eirik & Gunnhild, and mention of Harald Hakon & Bluetooth, should place it somewhere around 933-940AD.
This was the 2nd Cecelia Holland book I read and while it is certainly not a fast-paced Viking tale, I definitely enjoyed it. Unlike many of the pulpy historical fiction books that have come out lately (like Conn Iggulden's crap), this story is true literature from a writer with some 44-years of experience. While the story is full of otherworldly mysticism, at the same time it is down to earth and offers a rare and accurate glimpse into the life of simple people living rather miserably in the rather miserable England of the time. There are no real superheros, but instead really just average people dealing with difficult circumstances and it is this quality that lends a rare authenticity to the tale.
The story is sparse on action. Many of the characters are foul, filthy, and really not very admirable. Its hard to like the vikings, the main character does not have any real outstanding qualities (or a sword), his companions border on worthless, and the women are destitute. The reader must cope with the harsh realities of being basically homeless and unable to afford food in an alien environment. Then there are the witches and the nobility, whom Ms. Holland slowly exposes over the course of the story in vague and tantalizing revelations. Between that and the challenges and obstacles the main character, Corban, must overcome, I found myself always curious to understand more and see how events unfold.
I believe this is the first of 6 viking tales from Ms. Holland. The next book, The Witches Kitchen, continues where Corban left off. This if followed by The Serpent Dreamer, Varanger, High City, and Kings of the North which she plans to release next summer.