Cover Image: The Real Valkyrie

The Real Valkyrie

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

The Real Valkyrie examines the life of women in Viking society and the way they might take on a man’s role in the case of shield-maidens. The narrative is mostly centred around the genetic analysis of Bj581 which identified the remains as that of a female. The book tries to hypothesize what kind of life she may have led based on the limited literary, archeological and other historical evidence. Each chapter begins by weaving together a hypothetical saga of her life, the rest of the chapter breaks apart the main components of the narrative to show the historical basis for the hypothetical scenario. Some of the topics examined didn’t quite seem that relevant but it was still interesting to have some general background information for that period in history. I don’t think the structure worked for me but the historical information was interesting to read. One way to read it I guess would be to read the pseudo-saga first (the beginning of each chapter that narratives the possible life of ‘Hervor’ aka the person from grave Bj581 who the author named ‘Hervor’), then read the rest to focus on each theme without getting distracted by the narrative of ‘Hervor’ if that structure doesn't work for you.

Overall, I recommend this to those that want the background on the information of shieldmaidens and women in general in Viking society. 

***I received an ARC copy from NetGalley***

Thank you to the publisher and author for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
The Real Valkyrie is an analysis of Viking women and their roles as warriors or leaders in the tenth century. It is supposition, imagined via historical facts about the Viking culture.  To me, the book comes across as an opinionated, scholarly article in the field of History. 

The role of Viking graveyards arises as an important set of clues to Viking history. The author weaves a great deal of her theory from the burial sites of Viking men and women.. Also mentioned in the book:  Viking poetry, weapons, epic songs, town structures, international trade, children’s lives, and rites or rituals.  For Viking enthusiasts, the book offers many historical details with an equal amount of social inference.
Was this review helpful?
This book paints a picture of Viking life and particularly what it was like to be a female warrior in the Viking world. It is interesting and presents a side of women's history that is not really talked about or discussed in most books and/or history classes. It does delve quite deeply into the subject, however, and can be a lot to process if you are not really interested in the subject. If you are particularly interested in the subject of Vikings and/or female warriors or if you just want to look at a different side of women's history than you normally get to learn about, you may find it fascinating.
Was this review helpful?
This is a fascinating book where the author combined fact with fiction to make an enjoyable read.  Brown obviously did extensive research and then used her imagination to flesh out the Viking woman.  It was a pleasure to read about the Viking woman who might have been one of my Norwegian ancestors.
Was this review helpful?
The Real Valkyrie is an interesting way to write a history book. In truth, it is history with a bit of historical fiction wrapped around it at times, allowing author Nancy Marie Brown to embellish an actual character from the distant past. Readers are seldom allowed such a taste of ancient lands and the people who inhabit them.

Ms. Brown questions previous notions of the past, asserting that the customs of those who previously interpreted former eras did so through assumptions based upon their own customs. The author presents facts to support her claims, that there were female warriors, and more than we thought.

One warrior was excavated in Birka, Sweden. Ms. Brown assigned her the name of Hervor, a person who did live during the Viking Age. Hervor serves as the main character in the historical fiction sections, educating us on how her life might have progressed. What’s very interesting is the way the author uses writings, poetry, odes, and other literary items that have survived, and clothes the life of Ms. Brown’s Hervor with historical truths.

This is a wonderful way to learn, and it really made the book a quick read. The Real Valkyrie is filled with supporting documentation, and I couldn’t help but appreciate the wonderful method used to present a history book with a story woven throughout. Highly recommended to history readers and those curious about the Viking past. Five stars.

My thanks to Net/Galley and St. Martin’s Press for a complimentary electronic copy of this book.
Was this review helpful?
Marie Brown weaves together a fictional story about Hervor, with actual Viking facts and lore.  I found it a very entertaining way to learn about the Viking culture and history.
Was this review helpful?
The Real Valkyrie was fascinating. I honestly didn’t know a ton about Viking history before picking up this book and it was really interesting to read about how society’s preconceived notions about women in the Viking Age. 

When DNA tests come to the conclusion that a highly ranked Viking warrior was actually a female, it stirs up controversy with historians. But why is this controversial? Why couldn’t a female be a respected Viking warrior? The author really dives deep into this thought process and comes up with well researched, valid arguments against this kind of thinking. The author uses history- but also weaves in some fictional elements on what a female Viking warrior’s life could have looked like. I loved this book.
Was this review helpful?
In 2017, DNA tests proved a high-status Viking warrior grave found in the late 1800s was not a male but a female.  Brown uses this as a stepping to stone to imagine, what her life might have been like, at the beginning of each chapter, based on archaeology, the sagas and history.  The rest of the chapter is used to discuss where the information came from and different aspects of Viking culture including, metallurgy, trade, slavery, religious beliefs, weaving, etc.  

This work, and other recent scholarship, challenges the traditional view of the role of women in Viking society.  There have been other graves that were once believed to be male Viking warriors but discovered recently to be women instead.  It is interesting to see just how much societal views do influence historical interpretations.  To this day, some scholars insist that these graves they had no problems accepting as Viking warriors when they thought the skeleton belonged to a male must have some other explanation than that these female skeletons were warriors themselves.  

Brown’s book is a welcome addition to Viking history making readers aware of the greater agency women had in the Viking Age than earlier historians had perceived in their construct of this time period.  There is always the danger in going too far in the other direction when a reinterpretation of history.  This can be particularly true when there is a fictional creation of this woman’s life in the beginning of each chapter.  This must be kept in mind when reading the work and it may turn off some readers.  However, the passages in the beginning are not spun completely out of the air but based on real archaeological finds in this grave and others, and Viking warrior women who appear in the sagas (even if they are not usually presented in a positive light).  

Anyone who is interested in Viking history will find this an interesting read.  Not only does it expand the role of women in Viking society, it gives details about the nitty-gritty of Viking life, and places Viking society in the greater context of a large and complex international trade that stretched as far as Asia.  It also does not turn away from what we in the modern day consider the much uglier side of Viking society either:  slavery.  

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for an ARC in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This was a weird "coming home" moment for me, sinking back into the mind of a bioarchaeologist, a framework that has gone cobwebby over the past five years. I had to shoo out some live-in ghosts who had made themselves too comfortable in this part of my brain.

It starts with bones, as these stories often do. Then the detective work begins. The book has an important premise, offering to reevaluate gender in Viking society. The historiography points out the sparse source material, very little in the Vikings' own words. Their sagas were only later recorded by Christian, Medieval scholars and then twisted up in later Victorian mores, each step casting their shadows over the narrative. Archaeologists' assumptions have also colored interpretations of the archaeological record. The book was sparked by a DNA analysis revealing that a warrior grave long assumed to hold a man actually sheltered a person who was biologically female. It begged the question: where are other gender-based assumptions falsely skewing our understanding of this pocket of history?

The crux of the problem with this book is that although I came in with a bright flame of interest for the subject, the way it was put together smothered that light with crushing boredom. For the first time in a long while, I decided to DNF at 25%. I'd rather read the article version. Give me the data in context, solid references, provide an interpretation, and let's go.

I'll try to explain what didn't work for me so that other readers can make an informed decision about picking it up. The structure was disjointed. Each chapter started with a fictional narrative about our valkyrie, followed by a presentation of data supporting the suggested plot. Sometimes, I felt that the narrative portion drove what data was shared, and in others, it seemed that the narrative was written with an eye on certain historical details the author wished to bring up. Regardless, I had a difficult time adjusting to the structure, and the analysis section tended to wander and get bogged down in details like names, places, and battles that seemed irrelevant to the social commentary at hand.

In terms of the narrative, it is certainly subjective, but the author is upfront with where she uses imagination to fill in gaps and how she used historical or archaeological evidence to craft her story. I didn't mind the approach in theory, but I didn't find the narrative particularly gripping, and I think I would have preferred a melding of the narrative and analysis to create a smoother flow and acknowledgment of possibilities. However, I understand she was trying to capture the tone of Viking storytelling, which I think is clever, though it failed to hold my attention.

I don't think this is a bad book from what I saw. The topic is certainly compelling. In the end, I was poorly matched to the structure of this book and would have preferred to consume the information in an alternative format. I decided to DNF since I so dreaded returning to its pages for more.
Was this review helpful?
I received a complimentary ARC copy of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press to read and give an honest review.

"… unique, professionally researched, and brilliantly written, …"

Being huge lover of history, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read and review The Real Valkyrie and I wasn’t disappointed.

Author, Nancy Marie Brown delves into a Viking warrior whose bones were found in grave Bj581 dated between 913 and 980 was discovered outside the Swedish town of Birka in 1878. Initially based on preconceived biases of the Victorian era the body was said to be that of a male Viking warrior. Buried with the body were grave goods such as weapons including a blade, spearheads a sword, knives, an axe, shields, various daily essentials, and a set of game pieces normally signifying a strategic thinker and were common of a warrior’s grave. In 2019 a team set out determined to prove that contrary to long held stereotypical beliefs there were in fact women warriors during Viking Era. The team, after running DNA tests on the bones, proved conclusively that the bones in grave were that of a female in her thirties or forties. The Author intrigued by this has tried to give the reader insight into the life of this and other female warriors by overlaying what stories could be found by way of sagas, poems, and documentation of the time to create a skillfully imagined vignette of the lives of these women warriors.  

Although, at times this book meandered a bit, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Very unique, professionally researched, and brilliantly written, Nancy Marie Brown has taken us back through time to walk in the footsteps of brave female Viking warriors, keeping them alive when history forgot.
Was this review helpful?
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.

I sincerely appreciate the publisher and NetGalley for providing me a review copy. All opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.
Was this review helpful?
In the late 1800s a grave  was discovered in Birka, Sweden that contained bones dating to the 10th century.  The grave also contained an axe, spearheads, swords and other materials that indicated a Viking warrior.  It was not until more than one hundred years later that DNA testing revealed that this was a woman.  Nancy Marie Brown imagines the life of the woman in grave Bj581, giving her the name of Hervor.  Each chapter begins with a dramatized episode from Hervor’s story followed by an explanation of the history or culture reflected in her story.

This is a well researched history of the Vikings and the women in their society.  The image of the Viking woman that most people are familiar with was based on Christian influences and standards of Victorian society.  Brown’s history looks at Snorri Sturluson’s Sagas of Norway’s Kings and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as well as the sagas and poetry that have come down through time.  She brings historic figures like Queen Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, to life.  Explaining how the written sagas could be dated by the materials used to record them, how the clothing helped to convey status or the fluidity of gender roles make Hervor’s story and The Real Valkyrie a fascinating book.  This is highly recommended for anyone interested in Nordic history or the roles of women in history.  I would like to thank NetGalley and St. Martin Press for providing this book for my review.
Was this review helpful?
A creative blend of history and speculation. 

Through use of archaeological facts and discovery, the author turns the script on what we think we know about Viking women (Hervor, in particular), humanizing them, showing how they were much more than wives and mothers. They were also warriors. They had weapons: swords, shields. They fought in battle. They dressed in silks. They were people of status, respect, power. She then takes that premise further by creating fictional, though entirely plausible scenarios, which highlight the remarkable fluidity of women's gender roles during that era. 

It was empowering as well as satisfying to read a detailed and well-researched history about the full lives of Viking women. Gave me lots to mull over. Thought-provoking, for sure!

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
The Real Valkyrie, The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown, is a meticulously crafted, well-researched dive into women's everyday lives in the Viking Age. An absolutely thrilling read that is perfect for those who find history in general fascinating.
Was this review helpful?
This is historical writing at its best. The sort of book well researched and a story well told. When the Victorians encountered Viking burials they decided that the dead were make warriors and that error was passed down through the history books. It wasn't until 2017 when DNA turned that upside down and the real identity of this warrior was - a powerful warrior woman. This book is the engrossing story of a woman who was strong and held her own beside the men. With research involving merchant trading, sagas, religion, family life - everything that made up her life - I enjoyed this book immensely and will be adding it to my holiday/birthday gift giving list without hesitation.
My thanks to the publisher St. Martin's Press and to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
The author has an engaging way of conveying history that keeps the reader engaged and interested. To be honest, I had little knowledge about the Viking warrior women but Nancy Marie Brown has thoroughly done her research on this well-written and informative book. This is a definite purchase for our library and history buffs everywhere will enjoy this!
Was this review helpful?
When a high-status grave is discovered in Birka, Sweden, it is assumed to be that of a male warrior. A DNA test in 2017 reveals the truth: the body is that of a warrior woman who died between the ages of 30-40 years old. What was her life like? Was she an anomaly in history or were women warrior more common than we previously thought?

I know next to nothing about Viking history beyond the most basic details: Vikings were warriors, raiders of towns, and were a violent group. So it was interesting to learn a little more about them in this book.

The author draws on stories, poems, and myths of history to weave a fictional story about the woman she named Hervor. Each chapter begins with a fictional scene and then a detailed account of why she wrote it as she did. I will admit that the very first scene with Hervor facing her ghost father to collect his sword from his grave nearly made me put the book down. It is drawn from a poem, but it not my cup of tea. Thankfully, that was the only supernatural scene, though there are mentions of "magic" used by the Vikings in their lives.

There were some "hot takes" on Christianity that I disagreed with, but those were easily ignored. I learned enough about the Viking way of life to be immensely glad I never had to experience their brutal way of life. 

Overall, this was an interesting book, though not an easy one to read. I did have to take it chapter by chapter and in small chunks. I would recommend this to readers looking for a detailed non-fiction look at Vikings with fictional scenes to bring it to life.
Was this review helpful?
"The Real Valkyrie" studies the history of the Vikings as we know it through a new lens: modern archaeology, free of the Victorian limitations we have allowed to color our thoughts of their world for so long. Others will call it feminist. How about both- as well as extremely interesting and well-written. 

Modern technology has been used to go over bones buried in Birka Bj581, a warrior's grave in Birka, Sweden.  Because of the weapons and others items traditional archaeology has associated with men, this grave was identified as a war leader, a brilliant warrior, and a man.  Today we know the bones are of a woman. Does that make the rest of the story the burial told, that of a well respected warrior, less true? Brown uses modern archaeology to analyze myths, legends, and history to search for the "real valkyrie"- who she argues was not a mythical being but in fact a warrior woman. Brown argues that women in the Viking age had a much larger role than has previously been assigned to them- that they were capable leaders, rulers, merchants, and warriors just like men. I found her arguments very interesting and certainly found myself agreeing that we cannot look at history through the filter of those who wrote about other people. In the case of the Vikings, this would mean men, Christian men, telling about a world that was already hundreds of years in the past when they were writing, and whose world view they could no longer understand. 

The multiethnic society of the Viking world, Brown argues, was a world where power did not come from one person (the pope) and filter down, it was not a world organized by kings as we would come to understand it later. It was a world where talent, need, and opportunity should focus your path and your gender did not limit you.  The idea of the Viking woman as the key-holder and mistress of the house is, according to Brown, the Victorian interpretation of the Vikings because that was how the Victorians viewed the world. And we haven't updated them since.  Here, Brown argues successfully that we should look at what archaeological sites tell us without preconceived notions, and we should not ignore the evidence that goes against what we think we already know.  Because Birka Bj581 is not the only grave of a warrior who has been reexamined and found to be a woman.  

Brown's The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women turns traditional images of the Viking world on its head and presents a vivid, well-researched, and fascinating exploration of life in the Viking Age through  a new lens. From the everyday to the afterlife, this is the world as archaeological finds show it might have been.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review
Was this review helpful?
The Real Valkyrie: the Hidden History of the Viking Warrior Women  by Nancy Marie Brown weaves together archaeology, history and literature to imagine the life and times of the Viking Warrior Women. In 2017, DNA tests revealed that the Viking warrior found in the famous grave, discovered in Birka, Sweden in 1889 and designated as BJ581, was actually a woman. Much to the collective shock of scholars and challenges all that has been understood about the men and women of the Viking Age. Ms Brown uses science to link this warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and their trade routes east to Byzantium and beyond. She imagines what it would have been like for Hervor if she encountered the larger than life but very real women in history, including Queen Gunnhild, the Mother of Kings, The Red Girl, a Viking leader, and Queen Olga of Kjiv. Ms. Brown challenges the common “truth” that has been passed on about the Vikings, which is based on the nineteenth-century Victorian biases of men’s and women’s roles in society. In truth, Viking women carried weapons, not just the keys to the household. 
The Real Valkyrie is well researched, beautifully written as Ms. Brown opens the doors to the what-might-have-been life of the Birka warrior and challenges the preconceived notions of how the Viking society really functioned. In the Viking Age (approximately 750-1050 AD) was more than the marauding travelers who raided the far-reaching lands. They were traders, explorers, farmers, poets, engineers and artists as well. Through her use of history, law, saga and poetry, Ms. Brown opens up the Viking world like never before. There were a few statements made that showed Ms. Brown’s own biases when she is attacking the Victorian biases. However, I chalk it up to her own opinion and assumptions as no writing is bias-free. Despite these biases, The Real Valkyrie is an interesting look into a society that many do not hear about and yet a society that helped shape the world as we know it. Overall, it is a lesson that we cannot judge a society based on our own assumptions. If you are interested in the history of the Viking Age and the story of what could have been the Birka warrior, I highly recommend The Real Valkyrie.  

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of the Viking Warrior Women
Is available August 31, 2021 in hardcover and eBook
Was this review helpful?
The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown was an absolutely fascinating read. I've always been in Norse and Viking history, but I haven't read many quite like this one which follows a real life female Viking warrior. I enjoyed the archeological aspect, the history, and I loved that at the beginning of each chapter she's created a little story about who the Birka warrior who she names Hervor could have been. This book totally sucked me in and it's incredibly well researched. I need to read more from this author in the future and other books like this as well.
Was this review helpful?