Many restless men rowed north from Skania with Blue and Vagn, and found ill fortune at Jorundfjord; others marched with Styrborn to Uppsala and died there with him.
–Frans G Bengtsson - The Long Ships - c.1954,2014
rec’d by Wobuffat (Metafilter) based on Michael Chabon’s review
Acclaimed as one of the best historical novels ever written, this engaging saga of Viking adventure in 10th century northern Europe has a very appealing young hero, Orm Tostesson, whose story we follow from inexperienced youth to adventurous old age, through slavery and adventure to a royal marriage and the search for great treasure. Viking expeditions take him to lands as far apart as England, Moorish Spain, Gaardarike (the country that was to become Russia), and the long road to Miklagard. The salt-sea spray, the swaying deck awash in slippery blood are the backdrop to fascinating stories of King Harald Blue Tooth, the Jomsvikings, attempts to convert the Northmen to Christianity, and much else. Like H. Rider Haggard, Bengtsson is a master of the epic form.
For a book full of war and murder this was a really fun read. It is a pure adventure novel, with Red Orm our viking hero travelling the the world fighting, killing, and loving. I’ll admit, it took a couple of chapters to get into before I really *got* the style of writing, but once I did it was so enjoyable.
Orm starts out his viking life when he is kidnapped and forced to man the oars of a viking ship. He earns his place in the crew but before he can make his way home the ship is attacked and he is taken prisoner once more, a galley slave where he does nothing but row for years.
Eventually he escapes this life and many, many more adventures are had.
There is violence, a lot of fighting, and plenty of pillaging. War and gold, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? But there is also religion and culture and births and all sorts of domestic life too. It is a really interesting book that is very wise to the lies people tell themselves about why they do certain things.
And if that isn’t reason enough to read the book then maybe I should tell you that our hero is also a hypochondriac viking, bet you’ve never read about one of those before!