The Soul Thief (2002): Cecelia Holland


The Life and Times of Corban Loosestrife: Book 1

Cecelia Holland’s series of Viking-era adventure novels have just been reissued in Kindle format and this proved a good excuse to make a start on them. As some of you will remember, I’ve had a mixed reaction to Holland in the past – enjoying her Byzantine Belt of Gold, but remaining unmoved by her Borgia-centred City of God. However, as many people have praised her to me, I’m determined to keep giving her new chances, especially as she writes about a fascinating variety of historical periods. This is one of the more familiar settings, of course, and I plunged with interest into Holland’s story of Corban Loosestrife – outcast, stranger, unwitting catalyst – on his quest to recover his kidnapped sister Mav. In doing so, he is drawn into the politics of Viking Jorvik and Norway; and, more worryingly, into the clutches of the enigmatic Lady of Hedeby, who has saved Mav from one kind of slavery, only to draw her into another.

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The Belt of Gold (1984): Cecelia Holland


When Hagan and his brother Rogerius arrive in Constantinople in 802, on their way home to Frankland from Jerusalem, they see it only as a stop on their journey. They have fulfilled their pilgrimage and now look forward to resuming their lives among the mists and forests of their native country. But when an accidental encounter with a beautiful young woman and a gang of thugs leaves Rogerius dead, the heartbroken Hagan vows revenge. Little does he realise that this vow will draw him deep into the midst of the literally byzantine plots unfolding in the Queen of Cities, and entwine his future with that of the beautiful, charismatic, dangerous Empress Irene.

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City of God (1979): Cecelia Holland


A Novel of the Borgias

I’m on a bit of a Borgia kick at the moment. Having just finished Sarah Dunant’s new book In the Name of the Family (the post will go live on the 18th, nearer its publication date), I moved on to Cecelia Holland’s vision of 16th-century Rome. The Borgias are at the apex of their power, with Alexander VI on the Papal throne, his daughter Lucrezia being offered in marriage to the d’Este in Ferrara, and his son Cesare driving the fear of God into the Romagna at the point of a sword. As Italy shifts under the weight of their dominance, a sharp-eyed envoy at the Florentine embassy begins to wonder whether he can use the Borgias as a stepping stone to his own fortune. As a roistering story of the Roman underbelly, full of dark alleyways, abductions and subterfuge, this should have been an absolute stunner… and yet it’s oddly stilted and unsatisfying.

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