865 A.D. Warring kings rule over the British Isles, but the Church rules over the kings. Powerful bishops and black-robed priests fill their cathedrals with gold, while threatening all who oppose them with damnation. But there are those who do not fear the priests, and they are the dreaded Vikings of Scandinavia. Among these Northern invaders, those who follow the Way of the Gods of Asgard carry the Hammer of Thor as their emblem, and they are sworn to increase mankind's knowledge and strength by conquest and by craft. And as Viking warlords cast hungry eyes upon a weak and divided Britain, the Way collides with the Church, launching an all-out war between The Hammer and the Cross.
At the center of this bloody conflict is Shef, bastard son of a Norse raider and a captive English lady. A smith and a warrior, he is driven by strange visions that seem to come from Odin himself. Torn by divided loyalties, Shef alone dares to imagine new weapons and tactics with which to carve out a kingdom - and threaten the holy power of Rome itself!
In this rich and exciting alternate history, Harrison ( Stainless Steel Visions ) evokes the spirit and atmosphere of the so-called Dark Ages with wit, sensitivity and impeccable research. England in the ninth century suffers from frequent Viking attacks, and when King Ella of Northumbria captures the infamous Ragnar, he vents his people's fury in a particularly humiliating execution. But Ragnar has four devoted (and equally cruel) sons, who vow to pillage all of England in revenge. As they establish a beachhead, burning villages and taking prisoners as slaves, Shef--bastard son of a Viking raider--enters the Viking camp in order to rescue his stolen adopted sister Godive. In doing so, he becomes the linchpin in the many-sided struggle between factions in the Viking camp; between one small English kingdom and another; and between followers of a new Viking sect that reveres learning and invention and the Church, which fears the loss of English tithes. Harrison eschews simple dichotomies in portraying a world where a pagan religion challenges Christianity to found a more humane and tolerant society. Readers need not be experts in medieval history to appreciate the story of Shef's rise from slave to king of a kingdom that never was but should have been.