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The Real Valkyrie

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THE REAL VALKERIE: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women.
BY NANCY MARIE BROWN

"It may be so for this saga as for another, that not everyone tells it the same way. But people
are of many kinds, and some travel widely. One hears this and one hears that, and each may
be true....It seems to me best to not find fault with a story if you can't better it. Whether it's
true or not, let those who enjoy it do so, while those who don't can look elsewhere for
entertainment."

"Stories told over and over and laboriously handwritten on parchment for generations are
never 'frivolous.' They have meaning for someone."

When I first became aware of this masterpiece written by Nancy Marie Brown, called, "The Real Valkyrie," I simply wanted to read it because my oldest son always wanted to become an archaeologist. I thought that this epic and muli-faceted book would give us common ground in conversations of a field that I had little knowledge and just a bare minimum of what archaeologists actually did besides excavate ancient artifacts. My younger son wanted to become a forensic geologist, which we as a family attended a famous one whom I saw on the History channel. We met him and he was gracious and told my younger son "to study hard."

Nothing could have prepared me for the wealth of information written by this Author who is talented enough to make what is a scholarly written interpretation such a fascinating reading experience. I was at first a bit questioning my judgement of taking on this very different approach in presentation. Very quickly I was so grateful that I stumbled onto this immensely unique writing style the likes of which I have never before in my life or encountered before. It grabbed my attention and it kept me captive so I read it from cover to cover in just one sitting. This Author made her point in an easy to read manner by anglicizing her interpretations and defining terms by translating them after she mentioned a word in a foreign language.

In 2017 in Birka, Sweden a skeleton that had previously been assumed male was proven to be female by extracting part of a tooth, and a part of the arm and testing its DNA. The results astounded the scientific community and a vast number of archaeologists, historians, scholars etc. that the grave which is labeled Bj581 was a female Viking Warrior. The Author admits that she doesn't know who this female Viking Warrior was or her precise date of birth or how she died, though bones often do inform these secrets. All she has are her bones, now boxed and stored in a Sweden museum that were first gathered by an archaeologist in 1878, where she was buried with her weapons in the middle of the tenth century in a spacious wood-lined pit overlooking a hillside. Her weapons that were unearthed with her contained: an axe blade, two spearheads, a two edged sword, a clutch of arrows, their shafts embellished with silver thread, a long sax-knife in a bronze-ringed sheath, iron bosses for two round shields, a short bladed knife, a whetstone, (which is a fine-grained stone used for sharpening cutting tools.), a set of game pieces (bundled in her lap), a large bronze bowl (much repaired), a comb, a snip of a silver coin, three traders' weights, two stirrups, two bridles' bits, and spikes to ride a horse on the ice, along with the bones of two horses, a stallion and a mare with their necks entwined--which were most likely sacrificed when Hervor died. Of her clothing all that remains are an iron cloak pin, a filigreed silver cone that is believed was on her warrior cap, four baubles or buttons of coiled silver wire, strips of silk embroidered with silver which was usually worn by someone whose status was of importance, and lastly a scattering of mirrored sequins. Until 2017, when the DNA proved that this classic warrior grave was that of a woman it seemed to turn history upside down because it had been understood that only males lived a professional Viking lifestyle.

While there are other ways to interpret a female body buried with weapons in her grave, this author's opinion and the findings of the archaeologist team of 2019, suggests "that at least one Viking age woman adopted a professional warrior lifestyle." The team added, "We would be very surprised if she was alone in the Viking world."

The Author named this female Viking Valkyrie Hervor, after the warrior woman in the classic Old Norse poem called, "Hervor's Song." "Her" means "battle." "Vor," means "aware." "Hervor, then means Aware of Battle, Warrior Woman." Her bones say that she lived to be about thirty or forty years old.

There is so much information presented in this exciting discovery that I learned and the information that is presented has been backed up by a plethora of factual data. When I finished reading this original genre which is defined using many categories, I was stunned to find that the last 27% of this outstanding book cites in its bibliography many Master's theses as well as Doctoral theses. Many were from Scientific paper's written in prestigious journals. I have yet to see such long list of sources cited that comprise approximately about one fourth of this very long book. As long as it was I was totally captivated and I was never bored. I am not quite sure of whether to classify this as a biography of Viking history containing both fiction and nonfiction writing that throughout the text were interspersed with sagas and factual data. Each chapter is prefaced with a reconstruction of Hervor's life that is dramatized by the Author's imagination. This was followed by factual data summarizing both ancient and not so ancient texts, with history, Icelandic and several other sagas, interspersed with both Norse and Scandinavian mythology and folklore. Whatever sources this Author has included to use they are a vehicle used to connect the dots and interpret the findings of the data to convince that a Valkyrie is not merely one of Odin's twelve handmaidens that led the dead to the underworld. I am skeptical by nature but came away believing that during the Viking age that females and males shared equality in their roles. This meant that at least during the tenth century that women had options. Two hundred years later with the rise of Christianity during the 1200's stereotypical inequalities began to shift placing women as mother's and relegating them to do the child raising and all of the duties of keeping house. This was also the way society was instituted during the Victorian era.

During the Viking era males and females shared in their roles of raising children and many jobs. Both males and females baked bread and made beer and ale. Embroidery and sewing was done by both males and females and learning archery and sword fighting was also available to males and females.

There didn't seem to be a strong bond to biological parents and their children as it was common practice to foster their children out to study with tutor's or to solidify relationships for material gain. This concept was new to me but it is backed up by the historical record.

I learned about Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings who was married to King Eirik Bloodaxe whom they conquered many countries during their reign throughout the Tenth century. Gunnhild received her title because she gave birth to nine children who survived infancy due to the fact that breast feeding gave infants a greater chance of survival. Nursing her children as many other women in Viking society did for two years was common and reduced fertility. This means that Gunnhild was pregnant over a twenty year period. After Eirik was killed in battle, five of their son's became Kings and Gunnith presided over their kingdoms which her five son's consulted her for advice due to her experience gained during her long reign. Her ten year old son was murdered in cold blood by Egil whom the two had a life long feud. Egil thought Gunnith was a witch and I am pretty sure that she was. Queen Olga of Kviv was a very clever ruler who this Author makes clear she and Gunnith had much in common. Queen Olga's husband was murdered and she outsmarted the ones behind it with a clever plot of revenge when she was presented with an offer of marriage. She lured them to their deaths and ruled until her son became King. He conquered many countries also but his last endeavor proved deadly as he was greatly outnumbered. He also consulted his mother and they also ruled together just as Gunnhild did.

Like I said this was the most comprehensive and meticulous researched piece of history with such a wide array of detail that I have ever come across in my lifetime. I learned about everything from how clothes and textiles were produced as well as how swords were crafted. How tapestries were woven not just to hang on the wall and keep out the cold and damp air but that they were woven to encapsulate stories as their main function. I learned so much about Norse mythology and how it differs from the Greek mythology that I am so fond of. I think that this would appeal to everybody that loves good storytelling and learning. I have already bought three copies of the physical hardcover. One for my special collection because I just adored it. One for my oldest son who when I mentioned the topics covered he said he wanted to read it. The third one I plan on giving as a gift to someone that I know that loves reading about Vikings and Norse mythology and the Icelandic sagas. I really think that this is a book that will appeal to both females and males. I am probably the only person who has reviewed this that reread this twice two days in a row. It has so much to offer and is such a treasure trove of information that is easily digested. This is just amazing and I highly, highly recommend it. Unforgettable! Stunning! Brilliant! Original! I LOVED IT!

Publication Date: August 31, 2021

This is already Available.

A huge great debt of gratitude to Net Galley, the amazing and thoroughly talented Nancy Marie Brown and St. Martin's Press for providing me with my ARC. All opinions are my own and in no way was I required to leave a positive review.

#TheRealValkyrie #NancyMarieBrown #StMartin'sPress #NetGalley
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“The first Viking housewife with her keys appeared in a Swedish history book in the 1860s, replacing an earlier historical portrait of Viking women who were strikingly equal to Viking men. The Victorian version of Viking history has been presented ever since as truth but it is only one interpretation.”
If her three previous books on Vikings weren’t sufficient evidence, ‘Valkyries’ seals the deal: this author knows whereof she writes. The language and the history are assured, the detail illuminating. From the grave goods at Burka to the ruins of long-vanished trading ports, the deep-rooted history of Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings to the warrior-woman Hervor’s life constructed from snatches of song and saga, it’s part archaeological report, part history, part legend, part anti-patriarchal commentary, and altogether readable.
Like the old Norse sagas, this book slips easily between fact and fiction; unlike them, it tells you which is which. Keeping in mind that the sagas were first written down by Christian monks after being retold & embroidered for possibly hundreds of years first. In at least one known instance those first copyists deliberately rejected the idea that a warrior might be female. 
So when the most complete skeleton, with the largest collection of arms, out of over 500 excavated graves at Burka was identified as female by DNA testing, there was some pushback among academics whose whole career had been invested in ‘men = warriors, women = homemakers.’
This unknown female warrior was tall – 5’7 to the largest known king at 5’8 – and her grave goods wouldn’t shame any warrior king. Her two-edged sword & her long thin knife in its ornate sheath both came from the East Way (trading route), toward Byzantium, although it’s impossible to know if she traveled there herself or traded or killed someone who had acquired it. She had two horses, a bow & twenty-five metal-tipped arrows, an axe, two spears, and 2 shields. In short, she was buried with more arms than almost every other known Viking grave in the world.
Small wonder that our author named her Hervor, after the female warrior most often mentioned in the oldest sagas.
During Hervor’s lifetime, from about 930 to 970, the whole world of the Vikings changed due to the spreading presence of Christian missionaries. When she was born she was not unusual as a fighter, but by thirty or so years after her death, The Norse pantheon of gods had given way to the Christian monopoly and women had been firmly herded back to hearth and home. Patriarchy was the ruling social structure. 
Only in the past 40 years or so has the supremacy of the Viking warrior as male been interrogated. This book makes a great stride toward bringing that knowledge out of dusty academia.
If academia isn’t your thing, here’s a pop-culture twist: If you are a Tolkien or LOTR fan, you will recognize many references in this Norse history as having been reinterpreted by that fantasy writer into Lord of the Rings. Mirkwood and the Vestfold are the first two that struck me. The Riders of Rohan have often been referred to as Vikings of the Grasslands, and King Theoden’s hall is likely based in part on the Shining Hall. After reading ‘The Real Valkyrie’ you may find yourself wondering if Aragorn was thinking of Hervor when he said to Eowyn, “You are the daughter of kings, a shield-maiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate.” 
It was not Hervor’s fate, either, to wither in a cage. She died a warrior’s death and was buried in a warrior’s grave with everything she would need to continue her glorious battles in the afterlife: 

Hers is only one of the stories of warrior women within these pages. There are tales and histories enough to fire the fighting spirit of any modern woman who reads it, and to give pause to any man who previously assumed all Viking warriors were male.
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I enjoyed the way the author combined the history being presented with a possible narrative for a Valkyrie burial. The narrative was well written and tied the rest of the text together well. I particularly enjoyed seeing why she chose the narrative path she did and the historic evidence that backed up these choices as well as her explanations of what other paths the narrative could have taken. I also enjoyed learning about the historical and mythological people that would have inspired the vikings during her lifetime and potentially even known this Valkyrie. It is always fascinating to see where myth and fact intersect and the author did such a great job of finding these points of intersection. All around it is a really fascinating read and interpretation of one viking woman's burial mound.
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interesting book on the true viking history. Everything was well detailed and informative - its so interesting to me that we can miss such crucial things in history but how we can then go back to rectify it using current technologies such as DNA. If you enjoy history you'll enjoy this book
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** Thank you NetGalley and Publisher for giving me a free ebook, in exchange for an honest review. **

As a Norse Pagan I loved this book, it helped me connect with the beautiful history of my people. I highly recommend everyone to read this book!
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What a fascinating, eye-opening, thought-provoking book!  The blurb for The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women promises it will lay to rest the outdated myth that Viking society was ruled by men and celebrate the dramatic lives of female Viking warriors.  Author Nancy Marie Brown more than delivers on that promise.

Reading about Vikings is always interesting, isn’t it?  They were so wild and strong and determined and single-minded and brutal.  Their society was not anything like our soft lives of today.  But they still followed what seems like tradition to us, didn’t they?  Men did the manly things – like fighting – and women stayed where they belonged – in the home and minded their own business:  children, church, and kitchen.

But not so fast.  DNA tests revealed in 2017 that a grave in Birka, Sweden known as Bj581, long used as the textbook example of the ultimate Viking warrior’s grave, was in fact the grave of a woman.  Any past attempts to raise the possibility of Viking warriors being both male and female was dismissed for years, with scholars citing so-called evidence of the contents of the grave, and not the bones, that they said proved weapons were for warrior men, and domestic items were for household women.  Even when the DNA test results were presented some scholars still insisted only men were Viking warriors.  Any evidence to the contrary had to be some kind of mistake.

Author Brown uses science to present a compelling “what-if” scenario for the life of Hervor, that Viking woman warrior, and describes The Victorian Bias which can well account for the pigeon-holing of Viking women into the roles Victorian women had to fill.

The Real Valkyrie will keep your interest start to finish.  It’s much more than a dry, scientific argument to support the DNA results.  It describes Viking life and history of the time as it could apply to both men and women, provides riveting glimpses into the personalities and actions of rulers and commonfolk, using humor and poetry to round out the stories.  It’s also startling and more than a bit irritating to realize just how much this Victorian Bias has influenced our view of history and what we think could or could not have been.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing an advance copy of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women via NetGalley for my reading pleasure and honest review.  It was a wonderful book to read, proving that non-fiction can be just as compelling and full of murder, mystery and suspense as any fiction thriller.  All opinions are my own.
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While this subject was fascinating and had me locked in from just the title, I found this a struggle to read. The research is there. The history is laid out and discrepancies touched upon. The facts as shown are very interesting. However, that being said, the writing is lackluster and tedious. It didn't flow well at all. At least not for me. It was hard to even want to pick this up and continue on.

If this is a subject that interests you, don't let my lack of enthusiasm persuade you to pass it up. This may be one that wows you as it has so many other readers.
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The author has done a lot of research in order to create an imagined life of a Viking warrior woman. DNA testing found that not all of the Valkyrie warriors were male in a grave in Sweden. Using legend, artifacts and imagination, she supposes a life for this warrior she calls Hervor. Quite interesting.
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I thought I would like this however the topic ended up not being something that intersted me. I'm  sure others that enjoy this topic would find it a well made story.
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Thank you to #NetGalley for a copy of this Ebook ARC in exchange for a honest review.

I was immersed and engrossed in this book from the beginning, Browns storytelling draws readers to a place where fact meets a spot of fiction. This work propels readers  to rediscover and explore the strong and fierce warrior women of the Vikings. It is clear from inception that Brown has done extensive research in the way she weaves history and science to tell her tale. The abundance of concise detail allows the reader to consider the journey warrior women may have experienced  through their lifetimes. A well written piece that is thought provoking subject matter that not only discusses one individual, but how a life might intersect with other having a lasting impact both historically and culturally.   I truly enjoyed this read and highly recommend it.
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The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown is a captivating look at history of Viking warrior women. It is obvious the author did a ton of research to write such an in-depth look at this period of time. She included so much detailed information on a wide array of topics. The premise of the book is a burial site discovered in 1889 of a Viking warrior that in 2017 was identified as a female. This is my first book about the Vikings and Norse, but it certainly will not be my last. If you are a fellow history-lover, I would definitely recommend reading this book.
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In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman.  Nancy Marie Brown uses science to create the Birka warrior, whom she names Hervor, and imagines what her life could have been.  Brown shows that much of what we have taken as truth about women in the Viking Age is based not on data, but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases. Rather than holding the household keys, Viking women in history, law, saga, poetry, and myth carry weapons. Brown brings the world of those valkyries and shield-maids to vivid life.

I really like the way Brown writes the chapters.  With a fictional imagining of Hervor’s life then the facts that her research say is true about the era and as it applies to Viking culture in general.  I really enjoy the mix of fiction and fact.  I admit I know nothing of Viking culture and history, but this book really drew me in.  As I said I love the format of weaving fiction and research to create a bigger picture of Viking life.  I highly recommend this book .  

*I received this book as an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) through NetGalley. I received this copy free in exchange for my honest review.*
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The Real Valkyrie is an extensively researched about the Viking Women and the roles they could have played in the Viking society. The book is centered around the bones of a grave in Sweden which was identified as a woman and not a man as previously thought. I confess I don't know much about the Vikings and when I was invited to read this book I was really excited to know more.
This book is a non fiction but the subject is fictionalized because the author has built the story of this Viking woman on Norse poems or stories by various people. As is the nature of these mythologies most of them are speculative fiction and the author has tried to recreate the story of our Viking woman since her childhood. Since I don't know much about Vikings it was a good insight through this book. Extensively researched especially since this period overlaps with lot of changes happening in Europe and its difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction I think the author has done an excellent job. A really excellent book trying to negate the notion that Viking women only stayed at home and gives us an insight into the life of Vikings.
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This book was.....heavy. If you don't already know a lot about the lore, maybe start with an easier read, it was very academic, but also not as heavy on the details as I was hoping it would be. It's very clear that research in this field is still a very inexact science, so it wasn't as filled with facts as I was hoping it would be. With that said, it was still chock full of interesting stories/reimaginings and was truly entertaining to read.
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The speculation of the author's Nancy Marie Brown on what life was like for a Norse woman.  Based on a real skeleton found in Birka, and full of research, it is apparent that Nancy Marie Brown knows here topic well.  That is why she feels comfortable speculating and positing her opinions.  The problem is that this book is listed as non-fiction and although the writer is upfront about her postulations it is hard for the reader to not subconsciously assign to much weight to her historical fiction.  However, if you are familiar with Norse culture the author does present some interesting discussion points.
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We’re all now familiar with the bad-assery that is the female Viking Warrior (and Viking hair, which is a whole MOOD). But you’d be surprised to learn that even the idea of female Viking warriors was a hard-won battle. Working with the Christian and Victorian stereotypes of the role of women, the real history of woman warriors was obfuscated and discounted for centuries. Nancy Marie Brown seeks to unearth the female Viking in her new book.

Working from histories, poems, sagas, past academia, new evidence and an imaginative spirit, Brown paints a picture not only of the Norse world but of a particular (though still fictionalized woman) by moving us back and forth between an imagined saga and real, hard facts. The solid research juxtaposed with a gritty possible story is engaging and informative. I was swept up in both the real and imagined world. 

Fortunately, I also had a beautiful picture of Valkyrie real ness. But for so long, these images were denied us. Thank you, Ms. Brown, and all the intrepid scholars of this history, for helping bring it to light.

Thank you to St Martin’s press and Netgalley for my free copy. These opinions are my own.
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This book was fascinating to me!! I watch The Vikings and The Last Kingdom and I was surprised to learn that several characters in those shows were based on real people! I have never read or studied up on any Viking history, but of course, I was under the assumption that Valkyries were not real and only men were the fighters and raiders. As a feminist myself, I loved learning that some of these women were so incredibly important and strong warriors! I loved how Nancy Marie Brown started each chapter with her idea of Hervor's life and what she was doing at that time and then finished the chapter with whatever the chapter was titled. It's like a fiction and nonfiction book in one. It was very educational!
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Nancy Marie Brown wrote a non-fiction book by weaving a slightly fictional story around the scant historical facts actually available and making some rather complicated histories and cultures completely accessible and easy to understand. 
The discovery that one of the most complex and complete Viking burial sites contained the bones of a warrior woman, long relegated to myth status, set off a reevaluation of what has long been thought truth about Vikings. But Brown does a phenomenal job of pointing out how the texts most of the "knowledge" is based on have long been produced by men with agendas and long after the fact. What follows is a long history of powerful women and a culture that didn't seem to distinguish between the sexes when deciding worth and bravery. 
It's engaging, easy to follow, and downright educational.

Very happy thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the informative read!
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So much more interesting and readable than I anticipated.  I requested this book because I’d herd the news story about the warrior’s grave that turned out to have the remains of a Viking woman.  This whole idea and story line holds great appeal.  I love the way Brown did extensive research and wrote a fact filled yet speculative history of the Viking warrior woman.
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I can’t wait to tell my book club about The Real Valkyrie! I loved it. Full review coming in the next few days!
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