With his Hemingway beard and a lifelong love of sailing, Maine-born James L. Nelson is the perfect fit for an award-winning author of historical maritime fiction and nonfiction. 

His series, The Norsemen Saga, soon to be 11-strong with the publication of The Narrow Seas, commenced in 2012 with Fin Gall, introducing us to the main character, the savvy seafarer Thorgrim Night Wolf. 

Golden cargo 

In fact, in the style of medieval Icelandic scribe Snorri Sturluson, this initial story is subtitled The Saga of Thorgrim Ulfsson.

The author quickly introduces two concepts to ease readers into the world of Vikings; remember, this was written a good decade before the recent surge in global interest in all things Norse. 

We hear that the young Thorgrim lived in Vik, Norway, specifically on the southern shore of Sognefjord, and that the jarl he worked for, Ornolf the Restless, went away for three summers a-viking

A chieftain and father of four, Thorgrim is invited along by his jarl, now father-in-law, the hard-drinking Ornolf, on a raid of Ireland. By now, Thorgrim's second son, Harald, is 15 and added to the crew. 

In Fin Gall, Nelson begins the tale in the year 852, as Vikings settle around the British Isles while encountering fierce resistance in Ireland. 

Seven years before Thorgrim, Ornolf, and Harald set out on their journey, Thorgils, the Dane who had proclaimed himself king of Ireland, was drowned by the very people he sought to rule. 

Heading for Dubh-Linn on the Irish coast to sell the booty they had stolen from a Danish merchant ship en route, they spy a currach, a small Irish boat unlikely to be carrying much of note. 

To their surprise, as their weapons tear the clothing of the unsuspecting locals, the Norse realize that the crew is wearing mail beneath their tunics – these are no fishermen. 

The 20 Celts on board had fought against impossible odds but were slain in bloody fashion by Ornolf's men. The reason for their futile exertions soon becomes clear when a bundle is found on deck, the only cargo on board: a golden crown. 

Amidst a web of enemies and shifting allegiances, Thorgrim's journey through Ireland's tribal hierarchy grows increasingly perilous. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Norse and Celts 

As the Viking longship reaches the future capital of Ireland, Thorgrim has no inkling of the significance of the crown or the power it grants to the one who wears it. 

However, he does know that 20 Irishmen have fought tooth and nail for its safety. 

Soon the Norwegians are plunged into the violence and intrigue of medieval Ireland, where local kings fight with each other and with the invaders from the north for rule of the island nation. 

We soon meet more Norse of Dubh-Linn – or rather, Danes of Dubh-Linn, curious about the cargo the Norwegians might be carrying. 

Further along the coast, shepherds discover the currach and its lifeless crew after it washes ashore. Where could they have come from? 

As suspicions dovetail with potential alliances, we follow Thorgrim's men to a bawdy mead hall, a prison, and a torture chamber. 

And what of the mysterious, Norse-speaking thrall Morrigan, dispatched by Danish commander Magnus Magnusson to keep the Norwegian captives alive? 

Each chapter begins with a verse from the Old Norse collection of poems Hávamál, with one of the most pertinent excerpts being: "Beware of befriending an enemy's friend." 

Surrounded by enemies and facing uncertain loyalties, Thorgrim can rely only on his instincts and trusty sword as fate takes him deeper into Ireland and its tribal hierarchy. 

Fin Gall by James L. Nelson is available for purchase on Amazon here.

Do you have a tip that you would like to share with The Viking Herald?
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at hello@thevikingherald.com with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.