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February 2012 Feature: Viking Month

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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boswellbaxter
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February 2012 Feature: Viking Month

Post by boswellbaxter » Wed February 1st, 2012, 8:05 pm

This is Viking Month! The Czar has signed up to get us started on this.
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

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The Czar
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Let's go A-Viking!

Post by The Czar » Wed February 1st, 2012, 10:01 pm

Hello, and welcome to our February Feature of the Month thread, which will be devoted to Vikings!

First of all, you should know that viking is a verb, not a noun... You are not a viking, you are going Viking, or plundering, pillaging, raping, and generally being an unpleasant fellow. This word probably derives from the norse word Vik, meaning creek or inslet, from which the Norsemen who became known as Vikings wrecked much of their havok.

I thought I'd start by posting links to and reviews of several books on Vikings that I love, and see what discussion starts from there. The great thing about Viking HF is that it can take place in a variety of settings, as the Vikings sailed and fought all around northern Europe, North America, and the Med.

First off...

http://www.amazon.com/Long-Ships-Review ... 397&sr=1-1

The Long Ships, by Franz G. Bengtsson

This is the definitive Viking Tale. Our hero, Orm, is abducted from his home by vikings, and is eventually, while raiding the coast of Spain, captured by the Caliph of Cordova. He escapes and ends up in Ireland, where he is introduced to Christianity and helps fight the English. He returns home to Denmark where he gets caught up in the struggle for the Danish crown. He ultimately goes on a quest for a treasure, sailing down the Russian rivers to find it. An excellent read that does a good job showing a variety of settings.

Next up...

http://www.amazon.com/Byzantium-Michael ... 655&sr=1-1

Byzantium by Michael Ennis

Unfortunately, this wonderful book is out of print. I found a copy at a local university library. If you can get your hands on one, it is well worth the trouble. This is the story of Harald Sigurdarsson (harald Hardrada). He flees his native Norway, after his brother is driven from the throne. As the heir, his life is in danger, so he is a secret king. He finds refuge in the court of the Prince of Kiev, until, alas, he falls afoul of the Prince for dallying with the young princess. He is sent off with a merchant fleet, sailing down the dangerous rivers to the Black Sea and on to Byzantium.

Once in Byzantium, Harald becomes a member, and eventually a leader, of the Varangian Guard, an elite band of Norsemen who serve as a guard to the emperor. He quickly finds himself in over his head in the murky world of Byzantine intrigue. Ultimately, Harald returns home, assumes his throne, and perishes in the battle of Samford Bridge fighting the English, who fall shortly later to William the Conqueror at Hastings.

Next up...

http://www.amazon.com/Last-Kingdom-Saxo ... 018&sr=1-3

The Last Kingdom: Book I of the Saxon Chronicles, by Bernard Cornwell

This series is a chronicle of the struggle between the Viking Invaders of England, and the Saxon defenders, led by Alfred the Great. The protagonist, born a Saxon, was kidnapped and raised by Vikings, so throughout the series, he finds himself with a foot in both camps, at various times, fighting for each.

This next series isn't properly a Viking tale, as it is set quite a bit later, but most of it is set in Scandinavia, so I will include it anyway...

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Jerusalem-Bo ... 171&sr=1-1

The Road To Jerusalem, book one of the Crusades Trilogy, Jan Guillou.

As I said, and as evident from the title, this book is set later than the Viking era, but the first and third books are set entirely in Scandinavia, and therefore still has a Viking feel to it.

The protagonist, Arn Magnusson, suffers a calamitous fall from a tower as a child. His parents pledge to God that if he lives, he will be given to the church. He ultimately is raised in a Danish cloister, where he both becomes a man of letters, mastering Latin, philosophy, and theology, and a man of war, mastering riding, archery, and swordplay. His weapons teacher, unknown to Arn, is a former Templar Knight, so Arn, all the while thinking he is a terrible fighter, becomes the baddest fighter around. He is ultimately sent into the world to find his purpose, and falls afoul of the sins of the flesh, for which he is sentenced to a pennance of 20 years as a Templar in the Holy land.

Book two is set entirely in the Holy land, chronicling Arn's exploits there, and his friendship with Saladin and the fall of Jerusalem.

In Book three, Arn returns to his home (Gothland, present day Sweden), his pennance done, to reclaim his love. He finds political trouble at home, as the Danes threaten to invade. So he welds his father's lands and clan into a modern fighting force on the Templar model, and leads the fight for Swedish/Gothic (they had the same king) independence.

There are many more. I notice there are a couple of freebies on the kindle store that I have not read, so I think I will again put aside the House of Niccolo series (which I cannot seem to get into) and check those out.

I'd love to hear about some good ones that I am missing. I would particularly like some good Varangian Guard stories!
Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
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Tanzanite
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Post by Tanzanite » Wed February 1st, 2012, 10:59 pm

Byzantium sounds interesting - thanks for mentioning it. And I do love me some Uhtred! (Cornwell's Saxon series)

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed February 1st, 2012, 11:07 pm

Byzantium is also the name of Stephen Lawhead's book, which also features a young man captured by the vikings who gets taken across Rus until his captors become part of the Byzantium Guard. The his peripatetic Vikings don't end there -- they mix it up with the followers of the prophet, get enslaved in a silver mine, and so on. The main character starts as an Irish monk, but he sticks with the Vikings for most of the story.

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Post by annis » Thu February 2nd, 2012, 2:48 am

There's been quite a renaissance in historical fiction featuring Vikings lately, with series written by Robert Low, Giles Kristian and Cecelia Holland which are all very readable.

A couple of older ones which I discovered in the last year or so and enjoyed:

Nadine Crenshaw, Viking Gold (1995)
I had a pleasant surprise when I picked up a copy of this book. The breathless blurb seemed to promise bodice-ripper, but instead I found a cracking story set in 9th century Norway and Ireland along saga lines, full of blood-feud and violently dysfunctional family relationships. There is a romance at its heart, but in the style of Tristan and Isolde. The central characters Aasa and Olaf fall in love, but she is forced to marry his father, with tragic results.

One interesting part covers Thorgest's settlement in Ireland-- Olaf joins his forces on the early raids. Thorgest or Turgeis is said to have been the first of the Norse invaders to lead a fleet of ships to Ireland and settle there.

I looked for other books by this author, but she seems to have pulled one out of the hat with Viking Gold -- the rest of her novels are just standard historical romances.

Another Viking novel with an Irish connection is Charles Barnitz' tongue-in-cheek The Deepest Sea, which i reviewed here. It was published in 1996, and is set in Ireland and England at the end of the 8th century, just at the beginning of the Viking Age. It's a bit of a cult classic amongst those in the know, but never made the big time, and unfortunately the author never wrote another novel. Deepest Sea is very funny and clever and even does a bit of a gentle send-up of Tolkien here and there.

DS is a book which shouldn't work, but does. The narrator, Bran Snorrison, uses modern idiom because he's talking from the perspective of now while describing his adventures in the past, and the contrast is one reason why it's so funny. Despite using this technique, Barnitz captures a late 8th century sensibility quite brilliantly. Picture a group of Vikings sitting around the fire sharing an ale or two and talking it up, and this is just the sort of bragging tale you'd imagine them coming up with. Whether you choose to believe that Bran really is an 8th century Irish-Viking skald gifted with immortality or a Viking re-enactor with a particularly good line of b.s. is up to the reader.
Last edited by annis on Fri February 3rd, 2012, 4:38 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by boswellbaxter » Thu February 2nd, 2012, 3:55 am

Thanks, The Czar! Viking Month is off to a great start!
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

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Post by Ludmilla » Thu February 2nd, 2012, 3:26 pm

The Norse and Icelandic sagas are well worth reading, and I don't find them difficult to read. I have this edition at home. One of the most glaring omissions from it is Njal's Saga, but it's already so large, I suppose that may be one of the reasons they didn't include it. I think my favorite sagas so far are Njal's, Egil's, and Gísli Súrsson's. I have the Heimskringla on my Kindle and have been meaning to read it (maybe I'll work it in this year).

I finally read the Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus last summer. I read the public domain text, which was a bit of a slog through parts, and would like to find a better translation with annotations. I thought Starkad was the most interesting character in the cycle. Someone should write a book about his adventures!

The Warriorsstory anthology has an interesting entry by Cecelia Holland. If you've read the Gesta Danorum, you'll recognize the inspiration for how her characters escape being executed.

Another good historical fiction entry is Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword Song. Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter is also a favorite of mine.

For those who like historical fantasy, I also really liked Guy Gavriel Kay's Last Light of the Sun and Juliet Marillier's Wolfskin. If you like children's literature, Nancy Farmer's Sea of Trolls is a lot fun.

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Post by The Czar » Fri February 3rd, 2012, 2:08 am

Thanks Ludmilla! I'll have to read those... wonder if my library has them... I'm sure the university one does.

Anyway, that reminded me. I was a big mythology wonk as a little kid, and I loved this book.

D'Aulaires book of Norse Myths

Its a kiddie edition, so it may leave out some seamy details* but its beautifully illustrated, and great for kids.


*I also had the greek one. When I was in college, I took a greek mythology course. The instructor asked "Where did Aphrodite come from." I raised my hand and recited, as learned from D'Aulaire, that she rose from the sea foam. "Yes, but where did the foam come from?" I had no idea. That wasn't mentioned. Turns out, D'Aulaire failed to mention the part where someone cut off someone else's man parts and cast them into the sea, hence Aphrodite.
Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
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Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

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Post by annis » Fri February 3rd, 2012, 4:48 am

When it comes to fictionalised Norse myth, Poul Anderson wrote quite a few. His Broken Sword is an old favourite of mine- here's a review which Carla posted a while ago http://carlanayland.blogspot.co.nz/2009 ... -book.html

M.D. Lachlan has recently come up with a brilliantly imagined but bloodthirsty fantasy series based on Nrse mythology- Wolfsangel and Fenrir are already out, with more to come. Fenrir is set partly around the Viking siege of Paris which doesn't get covered too often in fiction, though not long ago I did read a historical novel by Vaughn Heppner on the subject called The Great Pagan Army- not a bad read, though a little bit sloppy in the copy-editing department. This is where the Kindle is good- I can try out things that look interesting without breaking the bank.
Last edited by annis on Fri February 3rd, 2012, 4:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by annis » Fri February 3rd, 2012, 6:54 pm

Posted by Ludmilla
I thought Starkad was the most interesting character in the cycle. Someone should write a book about his adventures!
Bernard King did, back in the '80s, with his Starkadder trilogy.

Henry Treece's excellent novel, Green Man is also based on a tale from the Gesta Danorum, known as Amleth's Vengeance. It's a one-off, though linked to Treece's Celtic Tetralogy, adult fiction, unfortunately all currently out-of-print. Treece weaves in mythic elements of ritual kingship to create a dark, compelling story of bitter sibling rivalry, lust, murder and vengeance. Set in 6th century Denmark, this is a very different version of the tragedy made famous by Shakespeare's play "Hamlet". Moving between Jutland, Arthur's Britain, and Scotland, this savage, unforgettable drama leaves few of its protagonists still standing by the time it reaches its blood-soaked finale. Treece writes with a deftly cynical irony which at times gives the story an air of black comedy, very much in keeping with the original.
Last edited by annis on Fri February 3rd, 2012, 8:18 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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