The author of the Beowulf-inspired The Coming of the Dragon (2010) returns to sixth-century Scandinavia to tell the story of one of its minor characters.
At the end of the first book, unlikely hero Rune met his bride-to-be, Hild, a peace offering from the warring Shylfings, on the eve of his coronation. In this companion, Barnhouse goes back in time to tell Hild's story. Niece of the king of the prosperous Shylfings, she is about to take the position of mead-server and hopes to use the ceremonial authority to "weave peace." Her dreams are dashed when, shortly after her first passing of the mead, she has a vision of an assassination attempt on her royal cousin's life—and promptly acts on it, killing a man who has made no hostile move. Disgraced, she becomes her uncle's pawn, shipped off to the lowly Geats to marry their new king. A specialist in Anglo-Saxon literature, the author braids in her knowledge of daily life in the Dark Ages effortlessly, reveling in homely detail. Hild is a satisfyingly complex character, both committed to peace and desperate to avoid exile (and probably death) among the Geats, bewildered, terrified and exalted by her visions.
Although it depends not a whit on the previous book, it may well drive new readers to it, so they can spend more time in this fascinating, distant place. (Historical fantasy. 12-16)