This kind of feels like a comeback. It is a comeback.
Adhering to the tired formula that led Bill Arnott to drain the vitality from corny jokes and not-so-exotic adventures in his previous work, his latest book, Gone Viking III: The Holy Grail, published in October 2023, has captivated everyone at The Viking Herald, leading us to "drink the kool-aid" with renewed enthusiasm.
Though the book had its moments (mostly of him judging the places he visited based on the quality of their fish and chips), much of the humor and charm fell flat.
This was a collection of travel stories he compiled before, during, and after the publication of his first book. Our thinking was that if it was not good enough for the first book, why dedicate a whole new book to these travelogue scraps?
Anyway, Arnott seems to have returned to the drawing board and rekindled the magical writing that made his first book such a success.
With an inspiration drawn from one of the most loved or most hated fictional characters, Indiana Jones, Arnott goes on his own "grail quest," traveling all over the British Isles, Greenland, Iceland, much of northwest and southeast Europe, as well as Scandinavia, and even up to the Arctic Circle.
Bill Arnott draws a fascinating connection between the famous Knights of the Round Table and the Jomsvikings, Viking warriors who plundered from their Baltic Sea island base. Illustration: The Viking Herald
On better footing now
Following the granting of his Fellowship by London's Royal Society of Geography, Arnott has hit the road again for Gone Viking III: The Holy Grail, and this time, he is on much surer footing.
His travels through the British Isles, Central and Southern Europe, and the Nordic region are linked by sagas, stories, myths, and legends.
What separates this book from his previous installment is that it retains the perfect balance between lighthearted fun and historical fact.
Arnott's travels at each stop of his "grail quest," from Switzerland to Spain, from Jerusalem to the Arctic Circle, strike a balance between their early medieval Viking history and later medieval periods.
Take, for instance, the myth of the Holy Grail itself. We commonly associate it with the oh-so-very English knights like King Arthur or Sir Lancelot.
Yet, Arnott links the Knights of the Round Table back to the fearsome Jomsvikings.
These Viking warriors, pirating and plundering from an island fortress in the Baltic Sea, may seem like a tall tale, but they were said to have fought against Sweyn Forkbeard at the Battle of Svolder.
This book's thematic masterstroke lies in its constant linking of two distinct eras: the early medieval period, dominated by Vikings, and the later medieval period, where the Church held sway.
Arnott skillfully connects places that, though seemingly unrelated on a map, share a deep historical connection through these periods.
Arnott also does his best to unravel the mythology of fabled travelers and quest seekers in the countries and cultures he visits, from Arthurian knights to Celtic druids to historical figures like Harald Fairhair.
I will not ruin whether Arnott finds his "Holy Grail" - though he does wind up in Jerusalem – but this is precisely the type of saga that people in Viking societies would love – a riveting tale of travel, history, and culture intertwined with ancient mythology, modern humor, and outright fun!
Whilst Arnott claims that the inspiration for this novel, Indiana Jones, should have stopped after his "grail quest," we hope that Arnott does not do the same. Another installment of Gone Viking, please!
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