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The Real Valkyrie

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The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown is a nonfiction historical book that focuses on the fact that new DNA evidence shows that the high status Viking warrior grave in Birka in fact belonged to a woman and many women during the Viking age where warriors. Brown weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to tell the possible story of this woman's life and the other women who lived during this time. Viking history has never been a topic that I've read much about and most of the knowledge is more from popular culture. However, I loved how Brown wrote about these warrior women and what we can learn from both the archaeological/historical evidence as well as information pass down through literature and oral traditions.
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The original bada** that we are just now learning about.  The research that had to go into this work of historical record-keeping in just the few years since  the Valkeryie's Discovery through DNA, is mind-blowing.
I was drawn to this book because of my own research on Valkeries and Vikings and Other Norse people and legends. Now my eyes are wide open to other possibilities. AND for that, I owe Author, Nancy Marie Brown gratitude of thanks.
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5 stars
Unfortunately, the file was corrupted when I downloaded it! So, I am unable to give a real review.
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Nancy Marie Brown combines history and imagination in her upcoming book, The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women. If you follow me, you know that I love books about Vikings and Norse people. And this is the best I’ve ever read. It covers a wide range of topics, instead of just focusing on who fought who for what pieces of land. Once it publishes in late August, I’ll add a hard copy to my shelf.

Brown centers her narrative around one specific ancient grave in a Swedish town named Birka. Here lies a Viking warrior. Archaeologists originally assumed the warrior was a man, but their methods improved over time. Now we know the warrior is a woman.

We also know her approximate dates of life. By examining her bones, scientists determine where she lived as a child. So, Brown takes the hard science, combines it with all the surviving goods in the grave, and imagines a life for this warrior. She names her Hervor.

By telling Hervor’s story, or more accurately, her imagining of the story, Brown explains multiple aspects of Viking culture. When she explains the weapons found in the grave, we learn how they were made and used. While we think of Vikings using broadswords, they also were master archers. They also used axes for many purposes beyond just the battlefield.

And because weapons were different in various cultures of the time, we can determine where Hervor traveled. This is the gateway into information about what cultures the Vikings influenced. The coins in this grave and many others also have distinct origins. So again, Brown delves into various monetary systems from Scandinavian countries to those of Asian locales further East.

Viking Craftsman
In addition to all these battle related items, Brown also talks in detail about the kinds of craftsman in Viking culture. For example, Hervor’s grave had a distinctive silver piece consistent with a type of hat worn along the famous Silk Road in Asia. Some scraps of fabric show a particular type of work known to be common in that same area.

Brown doesn’t just say, “this came from there.” Instead, she describes how women learned the art of weaving, embroidery, and sewing. In the context of Hervor’s youth, we see how some girls moved into typical home arts and others leaned towards the life of trading and marauding.

As she describes these craftspeople, Brown also makes clear that they were highly respected. In some cases, the Queen of a given region would be in charge of the craftsmen. This was particularly true of fabric-related tasks, but not limited to them. Providing fabric meant planning an entire manufacturing process, so it was no small responsibility. The best quality fabrics were made to trade. And the least quality went to the household slaves.

Viking Traders and Slavers
Yes, Vikings had slaves. And they traded slaves along with all the other goods they sold throughout their part of the world. Usually, slaves were people captured as one tribe conquered another. They were often from two regions of the same country, or from two adjacent countries. So, it’s quite different from how we think of slaves as being stolen from an entirely separate continent. Brown devastatingly lays out the values of various types of slaves. She explains how archaeologists know where the markets were. This section was the hardest part of the book to read. But it’s a hard, cold truth. Slavery didn’t begin in 1619 but has been a tragic fact of life for centuries.

Mythology and Religious Beliefs
Rather than separate the Norse mythology, stories, and poetry into a separate section, Brown weaves them throughout her narrative. In fact, many of her explanations are rooted in these stories. This means that the line between fact and fiction is blurred, but Brown makes it as clear as possible.

History happens alongside the writings in some cases. And in others, the writing happens hundreds of years after the events it purports to describe. In that case it’s heavily influenced by the Christian Church. It’s here that we see the role of Viking warrior women erased. Because the Church wasn’t served by the idea of strong women. They preferred forcing women into a specific kind of life. And that’s why Hervor’s grave was originally assumed to hold the remains of a man. But Brown proves the patriarchy wrong by combining scholarship and imagination.

My conclusions
This book is everything I hoped Arthur Herman’s recent book would be but wasn’t. It’s full of heart, chutzpah, and reveals the fullness of a Viking woman’s life. Brown is both teacher and storyteller. Her deft combination of all aspects of this story paints an inspiring picture. Most of what Hervor and her companions achieve makes me proud to have Norwegian DNA. Except the slavery, which is heartbreaking no matter how common.

After watching all seasons of The Vikings on the History Channel, my favorite character is Lagertha. She a fierce shield maid, mother, farmer, and battle worn woman. I loved Brown’s shout out to her.
But even more, I want a show about my new heroine, Hervor. In the meantime, I’ll just keep revisiting this book and delving into Brown’s other work about the Viking culture. I’m also glad for her extensive bibliography, since it offers considerable opportunity for continued learning.

Anyone curious about the fiercely feminist aspects of Norse culture should read this book. I highly recommend it.

Pair with Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, which is fictional, based in Norway and about the details of a woman’s life.

Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.
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I'd had Nancy Marie Brown's The Real Valkyrie in my "to read" pile after seeing it on lists of upcoming history books, so I was thrilled when I was invited to read and review the title by Sara Beth at St. Martin's Press.

This book was spectacular. I've seen other reviews that mention it didn't add much to Brown's previous work, but not being familiar with her yet, it was an excellent introduction. One can learn so much about Viking culture (which I thought I had a good grasp of, but found that I was missing a lot!) through this book, which reads like a novel: women's roles/gender equality, education, childhood, commerce, and more. And I loved how she started each chapter imagining Hervor's life though a fictional tale. Her writing is clear and accessible and if you're the type who finds history to be boring, you should give this a try to change your mind.

It's utterly fascinating to me how much could be gleaned from this set of bones. This book was a real treat and well worth a read for those interested in the Viking age, women's history, or history in general. I'm looking forward in finding the author's other works.

Special thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for making this available for me to review. It was a pleasure.
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This is an amazing book, The Real Valkyries,  of the history of the Vikings and the women Vikings.especially the women who were warriors.  Would love to be able to feel as free to choose my path as the young women who were Vikings.  They were given the options of what the wanted to do from being women of the home or warriors or leaders.of the Viking clan.  If you have the instincts to lead you can be a leader.
Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for an ARC of this book.  I have really enjoyed the history.
#Netgalley #StMartinsPress
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.Remains of a Viking warrior found in Birka, Sweden were discovered in 2017 to be female. For centuries it was assumed that males fought battles as females performed the domestic tasks. Using this woman,   Nancy Marie Brown gives her the name “Hervor” and proceeds to tell her story. Basing her theories on scholarship and quoting from Norse sagas and legends, she blends fiction and non- fiction to introduce the reader to this character. She surmises she would have been at born at a time when opportunities were wide for women, a time when females and males were raised similarly.  Her remains indicate she was well-nourished, possibly taken from her roots and raised by others. She references heroines, queens and goddesses of Norse legend, women who made their mark on the culture throughout Scandinavian strongholds. We read of slave markets in Dublin, Sami people of the North and the importance of weapons, especially the sword and bow. Hervor learns to cook, weave, fight with weapons and how to dress to impress, aware of the significance of silk.  The author’s rich knowledge of Viking history and culture is shared with her audience through references to female warriors and merchants, other than Hervor, throughout Europe. This work opens much discussion.
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I am about halfway through this book because I am very busy with work and don't have a lot of time to read at the moment, but I highly recommend it. At first I wasn't sure about The Real Valkyrie, as I am not terribly interested in Vikings, but right off the bat I was hooked by the introduction's simple fact of, "All I have is her bones". The remains of a Viking woman--not always thought to be a woman--found in grave Bj581, are given the name Hervor, like the legendy Viking from legends of old. I have already cried multiple times reading this galley, because Brown brings it home time and time again that people have always been people, and often we have to deconstruct centuries of categorization that attempt to prove otherwise. Historians often had ulterior motives for putting historical figures in a certain light, and we have to be careful what conclusions we draw and who/what this affects when we do. 

I was staggered by the fact that we can tell where a person lived down to a few miles and what water source they were near just by analyzing their teeth. I am glad that archaeologists give remains names when we do not know who they might've been. The whole book really just made me think about how many people lived before us and, though they may not be here now, they have left traces and they fought and loved and created and told stories to pass down, and some have made their way to us. I also loved the explanations of certain roots of words, like 'Viking' meaning 'people of the bay' and one word for 'witchcraft' meaning 'song'. I plan to get this book in print so I can actually have something physical to highlight and take notes on.
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Absolutely fascinating! A beautiful blend of fact and ficton, The Real Valkyrie investigates female roles (particularly warriors) in the viking era and provides both historical facts and arcehological evidence alongside fictional explorations and accounts from Norse myth and saga retellings when exploring its subject matter. Incredibly thought-provoking, well researched and defintiely not to be missed! 

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for letting me read this Digital ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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Women warriors in the Viking Age!
When most people think “Viking”, we picture a robust NorseMAN in full battle regalia and do not even consider the possibility that some Vikings were women. Until recently, it appears most experts also dismissed the idea of female Vikings,  although women warriors were mentioned in  poetry from the 13th century, such as the legendary Valkyries. Valkyries were  pagan battle-goddesses with shields and swords who ferried dead heroes to Valhalla, and archeologists have discovered images of women warriors in a number of European countries.
In The Real Valkyrie author Nancy Marie Brown introduces us to the first confirmed female Viking warrior, an identification made possible through modern DNA analysis.  Brown calls this warrior Hervor after a  warrior woman in a classic Old Norse poem, Hervor’s Song. 
Each chapter begins with a dramatization of some aspect of Hervor’s life in the style of a Norse saga and then explores that aspect more fully. Although the focus is on the woman warrior, there is a great deal of related information about the Viking Age, what we know, what is claimed or believed, and how we got our information.. For example, in the chapter on death, there are descriptions of graves but also we learn about how Vikings tended to die and how scientists today determine the cause of death. 
The author’s sources are many and diverse.  There are, of course, the discoveries of modern scientists. In addition, though, many sources are medieval, such as a 14th-century Icelandic lawyer named Haukur Erlendsson, who provided the oldest copy of Hervor’s Song. For us, the medieval sources themselves are old, and they are transmitting material that is even older, so it is especially difficult to sort fact from fiction.  As a matter of fact, Brown says that scholars have long considered the poems more authentic than prose that has been handed down, because the elaborate rules made it easier to remember them and harder to change them (although she acknowledges that we cannot judge the amount of literary license that may have gone into the original poem).  
The book is a treasure trove of new-to-most-readers information. Many, perhaps most, of the many names and places will be new to the average reader, however,  as well as terms like “byrne” and “strake” and the many weapons the Vikings used, so it requires some close attention. This is a book where some illustrations could have been very helpful.
What I learned was fascinating and novel, but this is not an easy read that you will want to take to the beach. If you take the time to enjoy it at leisure, though, you will come away with a wonderful picture of the Viking Age and the role that women probably played.
I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press.
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“From China in 1200BC to the United States today, archaeological and historical sources attest to thousands of women who have engaged in combat as warriors and war leaders. Yet routinely their witness, their histories and weapon-filled burials and battle-scarred bones, are dismissed. Scholars undercut (or ignore) them. Historians turn them into myths or allot their deeds to a convenient (or imagined) man. They’re presented as anomalies.”

Nancy Marie Brown is no stranger to writing about Vikings or the role that women play within Viking culture, however The Real Valkyrie is Brown’s attempt at putting together a comprehensive approach (and subsequently, debunking cultural notions and myths) of what a Valkyrie is, a Viking Warrior Woman, and the roles that each played in Viking society. 

Brown quite cleverly structures the book around the burial site and corpse of a Viking Warrior Woman in Birka (Sweden), and the evidence not just of her femaleness, but of her buried artefacts that indicate her travels across large parts of the known world.

Incorporating archaeology, myth, and an impressive dearth of historical knowledge, Brown attempts to connect the dots of who this woman was, why it has taken so long to appreciate her as Viking Warrior, and what this means for understanding warriors in Viking culture as a whole – perhaps she is not the exception, but rather just as much the rule as Viking Warrior Men.

I’ve found myself thinking and rethinking over aspects of the book, and even though it’s unsurprising to me that the role of Viking Warrior Women has long since been obscured, there were many facets to The Real Valkyrie that were particularly powerful in changing my understanding around women warriors, not just in Viking culture but across other histories.

Each chapter is quite accessible, and sectioned so that each one explores a different aspect of a Viking Warrior’s life (especially if she was female), and the various social, economic and political forces that would influence this role in Viking society. Brown leaves nothing out – from travel, to family, to clothing, to even a very detailed section on the process of forging a Viking sword, Brown paints a very detailed and deft picture of life as a Viking, let alone that of a Viking Warrior. 

I particularly enjoyed her referring to Snorri Sturluson as “The misgonyist Snorri Struluson” – Brown does provide evidence to back up this claim, but it did give me a laugh everytime. 

It’s clear that the author is an expert in this field, and every part of the Viking world explored is done with remarkable depth. I would also consider this is a weakness for a reader less interested in Vikings – the attention to detail means that while it is never a dry reading experience, there is a large amount of information that the reader has to pay attention to (especially if they want to get the most out of the reader experience). 

One chapter that particularly stuck out personally was the one of slavery. Although I have more than a passing interest in Viking history, my knowledge is still somewhat lacking, and this was really the standout chapter that changed my perception of Viking culture. The fact that slavery was such a large and indiscriminate part of their economy and society is something I have rarely encountered in depictions of Vikings, and I found this to be one of the parts of The Real Valkyrie that really challenged my knowledge and ideas of what a Viking is. 

Another strength of The Real Valkyrie was the analysis around religion, and as the slow erosion of paganism gave way to Christianity, so too did ideas around women and their roles in Viking society slowly shifted to mirror that of a Christian, not a Viking world. 

Ultimately, Brown makes a very convincing and absolutely fascinating case for challenging our preconceived notions around gender, Vikings, and warrior-hood. I would strongly encourage anyone to pick this up who is interested in diving deep into the world of Vikings, Warriors, and how our understanding of the intersection of women between those two has shifted drastically - and been almost eroded entirely - over time.

Big Thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.!
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While it was unearthed in 1878, it wasn't until 2017 that DNA tests revealed the Viking warrior in a high-status grave was actually a woman.  The deceased had been buried in an underground wooden chamber with the remains of a mare and a stallion.  Weapons were placed in the grave such as a sword, an axe, knives, spears, shields and a quiver of 25 armour-piercing arrows.

In her book, Brown names this warrior Hervor, and weaves together archaeology, science, history and Viking lore and literature to bring Hervor to life.  The book is a thoroughly researched and partly imagined telling of what everyday life would have been like for Hervor.  What was a woman’s role at that time?  Well, it wasn’t always staying home with the kids.  Hervor, and other women like her, were adventurers, sailing the seas to new lands, conquering their enemies and leading bands of men.  

I will say that at times my interest waned (way too much information about weaving material), but for the most part the book is a fascinating insight into history and Viking culture.  The one question I had when I started the book was, why was she buried sitting up?  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find anything that answers that question, or why wasn’t she set adrift in a boat, which was then set ablaze with a flaming arrow?
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The Real Valkyrie
By Nancy Marie Brown

This book aims to correct the perception of what Viking society was like, particularly in regard to the status of women and the incorrect idea that the pagan Vikings, like the later Christianized societies, were limited by ideas of the place of gender in society.

Ms. Brown provides a different picture of gender roles – or lack thereof – in Viking society.  Pagan Vikings did not assign certain roles to women such as child care, housekeeping, etc.  Nor were men exclusively farmers, fishermen or warriors.  But the written accounts of the Vikings, which did not appear until hundreds of years later, gave us a picture filtered through the Christian society's biases of the time.  Men were described as warriors, but the female warriors were deemed to be a mythical concept.

Some of the author's historical references, such as the burial mound at Oseberg which was found through DNA to be the resting place of a high level female warrior, and the mention of Logertha, the warrior queen characterized in the TV drama "The Vikings", were familiar to me.  These references made Ms. Brown's findings much more compelling.

This book presents a much clearer picture of a society for which there is almost no verifiable written record.  For the history buff, this book is a must.
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This book was outstanding. I found the pace, tone, and information of "The Real Valkyrie" was well set, intriguing, and lush. I really enjoyed how the archaeological information was presented and interpreted. The details were amazing and well written into the context of each chapter. Additionally, I liked in this book that the theme remained more on a track throughout the entirety of the book. The addition of the stories at the beginning of the chapters also added something fun throughout that imagined Hervor and her life; it included again archaeological record and myth/saga. The book itself played on both of those things, acknowledging that both were important pieces in the historical story in their own way. I was taking feverish notes throughout each chapter, utterly fascinated by all of the information coming my way. I have read another book by Ms. Brown, but this one really shone for me. While long, I felt there was little repetition throughout the book, but instead the information was new. I enjoyed reading more about the burials, their inhabitants and grave goods, and theorizing their stories.
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For me, The Real Valkyrie does both a huge benefit to reexamining the way we interpret the remains we have of the Vikings, and has the potential to create some confusion as Brown weaves together archaeological evidence, sagas and poems of legendary historical Viking figures, and imagines her own story for the remains found of a Viking warrior woman. The storytelling makes the archaeological information the author shares much more readable and less dry, but at the same time can also make it more difficult to separate fact from fiction. It can get easy to get caught up in Hervor's adventures and then remember that Brown is creating a plausible, but ultimately fictional story based on the remains of the woman found on Birka and the objects found with her. The epics and poems both muddy the story further and provide additional perspective, as they are often told from hundreds of years after people lived and events happened, from the male-dominated Christian religion that struggles to fathom women being in charge or fighting in battles. This was a story that was fascinating as we continue to reevaluate the past of the Vikings with a more open-minded perspective, and there's definitely great information in the book. That being said, it should be read carefully from a nonfiction perspective due to the speculative and interpretative approach the author takes in sharing new information and research.
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Living during the Viking age does not sound enticing. Gender may not have mattered in a person’s choice of occupation. Women could lead warriors and men stay in the kitchen. But the lifestyle doesn’t appeal. Family didn’t seem too important.
A warrior in a Birka grave was assumed to be male until DNA testing revealed she was female. Nothing is known about her, but the author draws a likely scenario from Icelandic sagas and was is known about the time. A real eye-opener. I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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I have been trying to go more into nonfiction lately, and let me tell you. This book was GREAT for that. You've got science. You've got history. You've got VIKING WOMEN. What's not to love? The viewpoint of pagan/Norse was so well done. The IMAGERY alone was phenomenal. Brown did her research so well, and you can tell she poured her heart and soul into this book. 

Is it information dense? YES. But not in a 'trying to chip through concrete with a plastic spoon' kind of way. It was approachable and it only made me want to keep reading. (But apparently sleep is a thing humans need...)
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Though much of this book is speculation based upon archaeological and DNA findings, there is not much else one can hope for in a book about Vikings and Valkyries. Although a hugely popular and trendy topic over the last decade, there is still much of Viking Age Scandinavian history that is shrouded in mystery. Most of the primary source material is archaeological and most, if not all, writing about the time period was recorded by Christian scribes centuries after the Viking Age ended. Yet, Brown is able to put together an entertaining and fresh take on a subject that contradicts what many historians have already etched in stone, if you can excuse the pun. By taking DNA results from a pile of bones in a “warrior’s grave”, Brown has turned the modern-day understanding of the Viking world on its head. Despite legendary shield-maidens and winged Valkyries being depicted in Norse mythology for centuries, recent findings have shown that the warrior culture of Vikings may not have been as male-dominated as previously believed. Using archaeological and DNA evidence, “The Real Valkyrie” puts women side-by-side on the battlefield with the brawny, bearded warriors we imagine when we think of Vikings.
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This was much harder to read as it is very detailed.  While yes it was a good read it was hard though as there were so many little areas to watch for
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The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women is part history, part archeology, and part criticism of the Icelandic sagas. Brown admits that much of the book is speculation based on archeological finds throughout the Vikings historical range and beyond. The book, though, is a much-needed correction to the male-centric, misogynic attitudes first put forth by Snorri Storlusson and his ilk as they rewrote the Icelandic sagas. Those ideas were repeated and amplified in the nineteenth century which, with its desire to “catalog” everything, also rewrote much of the world’s history to conform to Victorian ideals.  

Brown’s speculation is based in part on fact: in 2017, a high-level presumed-male warrior buried in Birka, Sweden is shown, through DNA testing, to be female. Brown also accesses Snorri Storlusson and others who were trying to document the Icelandic sagas, albeit with a medieval male-oriented Christian bent. Her expansive knowledge of Viking history and sagas bring Viking society to life. The Real Valkyrie reveals how medieval and modern biases shaped our vision of Viking women even more than data and facts have.

The Real Valkyrie gives this female Viking a name and imagines her life and her experiences. Each chapter begins with the imagined life of this woman warrior. This book blends both history and historical fiction, thus readers who prefer straight fiction or straight history may find this book maddening. I found this book to be beautifully written and researched. I loved the rich details Brown provides as well as her take on what a female Viking might have experienced.
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