Let's face it. The Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100 CE) - with all that ravaging and raiding - is steeped in masculinity.
The study of their history differs little. It has been, traditionally, a highly masculine affair with little or no regard for a female point of view.
However, a new generation of Viking enthusiasts, scholars, and boffins, led by the likes of the marvelous Dr. Cat Jarman (read our review on her latest book here), Lisa Hannett, and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir are helping to offer new perspectives and redress this imbalance on the Viking world.
Perhaps the best example of this is Nancy Brown's new book, The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Women.
A grave inspiration
Nancy Brown is no stranger to excellent non-fiction writing. Her previous book, "Song of the Vikings," was an influential and interesting biography of the great Icelandic compiler of histories (real and imagined), sagas, and poems, Snorri Sturluson.
Yet her new tome, The Real Valkryie: The Hidden History of Viking Women, may be her best.
Inspired by the 2017 discovery that the bones of a Viking warrior (Bj581) uncovered in a Viking-era grave in Birka, Sweden, are, in fact, female, Brown reexamines the archaeological record, texts, sagas, and chronicles to try to "re-create the world of one warrior woman in the Viking Age."
What she does is so much more. Brown focuses on the lives and lived experiences of a series of women, from mere servants to Queens, throughout the Viking Age.
Unlike other authors in the past, Brown presents a nuanced and complex view of these "Valkyrie women" and their place in Viking society. Yet this is not a staid historical book, merely stating facts.
Brown has a genuine knack for storytelling, and the book is alive with humorous anecdotes; her descriptions of her Valkyrie women are vivid, enthralling, and evocative.
The use of the female warrior uncovered in Birka, who Brown has christened "Hervor," is a narrative thread that takes from Kyiv to the islands off northern Norway to Byzantium and everywhere in between, showing that often a great historical journey is also a great story.
Breathing fresh life into a staid historical subject
The Valkyries, like Viking history itself, have been constantly reimagined and reinterpreted throughout the ages.
Brown gives a detailed account of the Valkyries' use, or misuse, from a wide range of groups, from the Nazis of 1930s Germany to contemporary feminists.
This adds an extra layer to the book as she highlights how these societies have shaped, created, and perpetuated the myths and legends surrounding the Valkyries and what purpose they have served (sad spoiler alert: to mostly subjugate women).
Nancy Brown, however, is on a mission to free some of these Viking-era women from the shackles of cultural, social, and historical bias and misogyny.
She weaves together the latest archeological findings and research, shatters centuries-old stereotypes and biases, breathes new life onto what has been a studied and staid topic of historical research, and, most importantly, brings these hidden Viking women out into the light, giving them a voice and a story after centuries of neglect.
The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Women by Nancy Brown is available now to purchase on Amazon.
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