Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love, and Greed in 11th Century England by Harriet O'Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A very readable piece of historical non-fiction. It's well documented/footnoted and not at all dry. The beginning isn't quite that easy to get started with because the English nobility between 800-1010 was a nightmarishly convoluted thing. Emma herself was married originally to Aethelred the Unready, King of England during a time when waves of Vikings were kicking the crap out of England. Aethelred was poorly advised in many cases (hence his unflattering name) and already had a previous marriage with no less than ten offspring when he married Emma, who was related to the Vikings via the Normans.
In fact her own name was considered too foreign and difficult and so she was renamed Aelfgifu. I'm not even kidding. That is the hardest part of this work. A good half of the characters are either Aeth or Aelf and the rest have Thor in their names. It gets confusing. There's no less than three Aelfgifus including Emma and her rival. In the book Emma is mostly just called Emma and her rival Aelfgifu.
Emma however was an interesting woman, strong-willed and able. Maybe not quite to the level of Eleanor of Aquitaine but few are. When Aethelred the Unready meets his less than pleasant end (oh come on you knew he would with that name), she is married off to the Norseman prince, Cnut and she has no small hand in carving out his empire in England.
There are some very colorful characters in this time period, Swein Forkbeard, king of the Danes, Thorkell the tall, a Jomsviking (they were sort of like the elite super Viking warriors), and Sweing’s forefathers Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth both of whom raised Jelling Stones (runic stones) to their ancestors that still exist today.
If you have an interest in Vikings or English history, you’ll enjoy this book.
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Vinland Saga, Omnibus 3 by Makoto Yukimura
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This continues to be amazing. I've mentioned before I don't much care for endless battle scenes but Makoto is a master at it. He manages to balance story and action in a seamless way. There is even character development, especially of Prince Canute in this one. Of course some of the tension is a bit missing for me as I know Canute's fate. I know who he marries and fathers etc and I'm not sure he was ever quite as wussy as he is in this but this is, of course fiction. Actually I rather like Thorkell the tall's fictionalized reason for taking over London to the one in the history book. I love how much research that has gone into this from the elite force of the Jomsviking to Bjorn whipping out an Amanite muscaria to chew on to go into a Berserker rage (though fly agaric actually being used is still hotly debated).
It opens where the last omnibus left off with the slaughter of a village but Askeladd's men don't know they missed someone and soon Thorkell is alerted and back on their trail. This is the first of Askeladd's mistakes. He will make a major one concerning the Prince but not before we get an interesting story of how Canute was raised, why he's so tender and gentle which contrasts nicely with Thorfinn who doesn't seem to see how twisted his path of revenge on Askeladd has made him.
Soon enough there are body parts flying everywhere as Askeladd and Thorkell's men battle over who gets control of Canute. Worse Askeladd's men really begin to doubt him and his fabled luck because of the very early blizzar that is making life hard. Thorkell is only in part interested in Canute.
What Thorkell really wants is another duel with Thorfinn during which they are battle for a very unusual prize and if Thorfinn can live long enough he'll learn how Thorkell knew his father. As for Canute he's on a journey of his own into the harsh reality of manhood around year 1000.
There is plenty of on-page gore so this is not for the squeamish but the characters are fascinating and they grow and develop, even if you want to kick Thorfinn up his backside more than once (one character says most teenaged boys are foolish and oh is he ever right about that where Thorfinn is concerned). It's well worth the reading.
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