Cover Image: The Real Valkyrie

The Real Valkyrie

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Considers historical and archaeological evidence to bring Viking women to life. This book honors the women who are not often featured in history. Insightful and educational.
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There is so much we don't know about the Viking culture. The author does her best to give her educated opinion on how things may have been during this time. I am hooked on this era & read everything I can get my hands on. While this is a topic that is intensely interesting to me, I could only read this book in short sittings, otherwise I would start to nod off. There is so much information & at times it is written in a way that kept me fully engaged, yet in other situations, I struggled to stay interested. 

The author provided her own historical fiction shorts throughout the entire book telling how she feels the female Birka warrior may have lived. She created these stories based on the information she could find from that time. A great majority of the information is taken from the Sagas & as the author points out, they are written at a later date, so it is hard to know what can be interpreted as fact or fantasy. 

The author discusses much about the history of the time to various tools used, where resources for tools likely came from, the slave trade, foods likely eaten & even the spinning of wool & flax for textiles & sails. No book about the Viking era is complete without also discussing the Viking boats of the time & the author includes examples of many different ships from this time. How religion wormed it's way into the Viking's God's was also fascinating. I found it especially interesting to learn of how the church came up with new laws & rules. If memory serves, one was that a man & woman must marry for life. At one time the church allowed for divorce. Another regarded sexuality or same sex. This wasn't always frowned upon, but then later became forbidden; a sin. In our modern age, it seems that in many ways our modern cultures are slowly undoing all of these sins aka rules the church came up with. 

With all that I have already written, the meat of this book is the role the author believes woman played during this time. From what I have learned prior to reading this book, along with the additional knowledge I have gained here, I have to agree with the author's interpretations. Some women were warriors & honored as such. Divorce was allowed. Women could own lands & become kings. That's not a typo, I wrote "Kings." Women were not property, unless they were slaves & anyone could become a slave, even a King. And anyone, even a slave, could become a King. I expect most women had more traditional roles, but the author points out that the misguided belief that women stayed home while the men went to war is mostly due to the Victorian era's interpretation of the Viking era. For some reason, this view has stuck. There is of course, also the church which said a woman was the property of her husband (or father) & a woman had no rights, could not own land, etc. Naturally the church is going to paint a skewed picture of the Viking era. Women were to be seen, not heard. It also doesn't help that the Viking's didn't write down their history. It was all verbal & we all know what happens when stories get repeated down the line over time. This left the monks to write the first telling of the Vikings & if you know even a little about your Viking history, you know they painted a terrible picture of the Vikings.

Overall, even though I could only take this in small amounts, therefore it took much longer to read than other books, I am very grateful to have read it. If you have any interest in the Viking era this is a book you really don't want to miss.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much!
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Earlier translations of the Eddas and other Norse historical documents were done by white men of a society where women were subjugated wherever possible and refused literacy, therefore they A$$umed that ALL warriors were male (they even gave Bouddica a hard time). Archaeology could be forgiven their bias to some degree because (as the author points out) skeletons and some grave goods degrade over a millennium. The author has done extensive due diligence into existing works and findings and presented the gathered information and conclusions in a clear, understandable way that the reader can easily enjoy as well as comprehend. I confess to bias because I am female and Pop came to the US from Norway in the early twentieth century. I highly recommend this book and plan to buy a print copy for my local library (and nag my out-of-state kids to do the same).
I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley. Thank you!
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I just reviewed The Real Valkyrie by Nancy Marie Brown. #TheRealValkyrie #NetGalley
This is a great book that sheds light on women, and the roles they filled within Viking/Norse society. Also, how Victorian views on women  are of great importance to the storyline. Women were Warriors, Women fought in combat, and Women were more than mere house ivies-or "key keepers" as mentioned in the book. Throughout history we have thought of women as the keepers of the home, and men as the ones to protect. This book discusses eye-opening discoveries that will forever change our view of women. This book is great for history buffs, and budding anthropologists.
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Starting with the confirmation that a warrior buried with full warrior signifiers at Birka was a woman, Brown constructs a possible life for her based on her grave goods, historical information data, and written accounts of the period. I loved the detail and information about the world this woman lived in, and how she might have lived. Brown does an excellent job--as usual--in bringing the Viking world and its trading partners to live. My only reservation is about the lack of discussion of transgender identities during the period--Brown discusses how pronouns and signifiers like "King" changed as women took on certain roles, but not whether there is any evidence of trans identities as we understand them today. Perhaps there is simply no information currently known about transmen and transwomen in Viking like, but I'd wager that there were, and am curious about the lives they may have lived. Overall, though, this is a rich and fascinating book, and I recommend it highly.
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This was more of Nancy's take on what a Valkyrie was during 913-980 A.D.. She goes on to tell of several other females such as Lagertha played by the artist Katheryn Winnick in the History Channel television series Vikings. But she has given our skeleton the name Hervor. Where she uses some of the sagas depicting Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings as her model for a young valkyrie. Hervor quit Gunnhild's court and became a Viking. By analyzing her teeth, they found that she had traveled to England or Ireland and also had traveled to Kyiv. She may have been aquatinted with the Red Girl in Ireland and Queen Olga in Kyiv. She uses poems to conjure up some family heirlooms such as the famous Flaming Sword. She uses the Saga of Hervor penned by an Icelandic lawyer named Haukur Erlendsson from 1302 and 1310. Many of the tales are only guesses by Nancy and she has books and references she uses at the end of her tale. This wasn't like any book I've read under the heading of mystery and thrillers more of a history book. Worth the read.
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In 2017 the occupant of the grave Bj581 on Birka was identified as a woman . The grave had been found and numbered back in 1878 but not much more was investigated beyond it being dated mid 10th century. An axe blade "named" her Hervor, a raider from the sea. The author began her own exploration of what this woman's life could have been like. Her bones tell us she was well fed and between 30 and 40 years old, had two horses buried with her and other grave goods. Ms. browns discusses the literature and other archeological sites that have survived to recreate the woman's life. This is a fascinating read. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital copy in exchange for a honest review.
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This is an examination of found bones and old pomes to follow the idea of Viking warrior woman. Lots of evidence is examined and the interpretation is grounded on the evidence. Thankfully no ancient aliens.
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Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

When Tessa Thompson was cast as Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarök , some people got upset because Thompson wasn’t a blond white woman, like how Valkyrie is in the Marvel Comics. You know, because Marvel Comics is so accurate when it becomes to the portrayal of the Norse myths; I mean Loki’s horse child that he got when he was a mare, is in there, right? Hel is his daughter, correct? But the thing is Tessa Thompson was Valkyrie in all the important ways. It is not difficult to imagine Thompson portraying the historical figures that Brown writes about in her book.

Brown’s point of departure is to speculate about the life of a woman who was buried in Birka and for over a century was said to be male.

Nope. She is a she.

Brown’s book is part history, part criticism of the sagas where she looks closely at the role of women. Much of the book is speculation, and to Brown’s credit she is totally up front about this. She also makes a very good case for re-examining burials and the assumptions that many people make about the Vikings.

The book is a strongly needed corrective to such assumptions, though it cannot correct all of them nor should it be excepted to. It can be frustrating because of the subject matter, much of the book is speculation. While the speculation is grounded in fact, you do wonder about some of it. For instance, just because it was okay for a boy to challenge authority doesn’t necessary mean a girl could.

Each chapter starts with part of what might have been the life story of the woman warrior, making this history also partly a work of historical fiction. Paradoxically this is both the book’s strong point and its weakest. If you prefer straight forward history, this will be maddingly. If you want straight historical fiction, you will enjoy it and then get frustrated at the breaks. At times, it does feel like the story is designed to cover all major historical points or aspects that we do know about. This makes it possible, but also makes the reader wonder about likely.

If you have read the Sagas, or Brown’s other books, there isn’t much new here, but it is worth the read for the discussion of the various sagas.
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History as we know it collides with real Valkyrie's in this meticulously crafted, well-researched dive into the everyday lives of women in the Viking Age.

"They were farmers, poets, engineers, artists - but their place in history was carved by their swords."

I am thoroughly impressed. This dudette knows her Vikings.

In this deep analysis of women in the Viking Age, Brown paints the lives of not just our mysterious Hervor, but of every woman, seen and unseen, throughout Nordic history. I learned so much about everyday life in this brutal world - the kind of stuff that most historians I've seen or read don't really dive into. For example, she takes you through. not just the wardrobes of what a queen or a mother might wear, all the way down to a warrior, servant, and slave.

While I didn't necessarily agree wholeheartedly with a few of her takes on Christianity, I did appreciate the pagan/Norse perspective she brought to the table. I would venture to say that it wasn't the core beliefs that were faulty, but the man-made aspects, i.e. the church that caused the fault and disrupted the placement of equality between men and women.

A lot of the misconstrued beliefs about Christianity and the justifications for male members of the Christian church oppressing women can be sourced back to the King James translation, which distorted the original Hebrew text in order to fit their narrative of what they (primarily the King) deigned to be "suitable social constructs".

I'm sure this isn't the first sign of behavior like this in history (given that the KJV version of the bible was devised in 1611) of men contorting ancient, sacred words to fit their own faulty narrative. I'm not a major religious person, but it is something to think about.

This is me getting off my soapbox now.

Another thing I loved was Brown's way of painting a visceral picture; she takes her What If? historian questions, and absolutely runs with them - making it not only an all-consuming fever dream for Viking nerds but an educational one.

All in all, I really liked this, and while it was dense with information, I honestly loved it. Every question I ever had about the women in the Viking Age was answered.

Big thank you to St. Martin's Press for sending me an ARC copy of this book!

Book Breakdown

Writing Quality: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Quality Research: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Enjoyment Level: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

「 Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆」
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While I found the story of Hervor interesting, it didn't flow well with the facts as presented in alternating chapters. I can see that the author was using the bones in Bj581 to tell a possible life of a female Viking warrior, and also work in Viking history as "Hervor" traveled. In fact, this is a tremendous acdemic tribute to the reach of Vikings across the globe. However, I found the mix of fact and fiction made it difficult to enjoy the material since it was constantly shifting, and many facts seemed to be run off tangents that weren't at all pertinent to Hervor's story - which is fine, except it defeats the purpose of Hervor's story as a guidepost. I'll admit that ultimately the information was very good, but I think the book itself was very difficult to read. I do think fans of Viking history would ultimately enjoy the material, but it needs editing.
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This book uses science, history, and archeology as the basis for fleshing out the likely life of the Viking Warrior Woman. I learned so much about not only Viking culture but general history of the time from this book. This non-fiction is written in a way that is as engaging and a fantastic historic fiction.
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This book takes you on a ride that you never want to get off of. Nancy Marie Brown takes history and weaves it to beautifully tell the story of Hervor, the Birka warrior. It takes everything we thought we knew about the Vikings and turns it upside down. Though Hervor's life wasn't a very long one, the tales that are twisted into what her life may have looked like and the adventures she could have had, are simply addicting. Hervor meets other amazing women during her travels in this book and with each new meeting you crave more. These stories make you want to dive deeper into the history we thought we knew. It makes you question everything you've learned in history. Fiction based in facts at its absolute best.
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The author is illustrating the importance of re-examining history without losing our reverence for it.
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The Real Valkyrie mixes history with fictional conjecture to tell the story of Hervor, a Viking age woman warrior. The discovery of the warrior jn a grave at Birka was long thought to be a prime example of a traditional viking warrior burial. However, with modern DNA sequencing, history has to rewritten as the warrior was discovered to be a woman and not a man as originally thought.

Nancy Marie Brown takes us on a fictional, yet historically based journey of this warrior woman and shows us what life was like during the 10th century in Scandinavia and beyond. 

What I found most interesting was Brown’s focus on the East Way. We have all heard the Viking raids on British and Irish monasteries, but Vikings traveling the trade routes and settling parts of modern day Russia are less commonly told tales.

Definitely a must read for fans of Norse History and Womens Studies. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this free advanced reader’s ebook in exchange for an honest review.
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I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley! Thank you! 

"Mercilessness is not a masculine trait." 

The Real Valkyrie is a fictionalized historical exploration of the role of warrior women in the Viking Age. The introduction bring in Brown's heroine, the remains of a woman warrior laid to rest with great fanfare and property outside the gates of Birka, Sweden, whom Brown names "Hervor" after the hero of Viking-age Hervor's Saga. This introduction really pulled me in right away. I loved the analysis of the archeological site and the genetic analysis performed on the remains. 

Each chapter opens with a fictionalized scene drawn from historical sources in which Brown imagines what the life of Hervor may have been like as she encounters other strong women of the time period and various contexts in which a warrior woman may have lived. 

Overall, the strength of this book is its dynamism and comfort with historical sources. It is an exciting read, evoking the high adventure of the Vikings through Brown's vibrant writing style and historical knowledge. The author has a long and successful career working with this material and really brings it to life. Viking-lovers and fans of the recent TV show will learn a lot from the alternate histories the author draws out. I think fans of Brown's previous work will also be enthralled. 

As it deals with historical sources about the Vikings, this book can be quite violent and also frequently mentions sexual assault and enslavement. I did not always follow which bits were coming from historical fact and which portions were Brown's fictionalized interpretations. Still, she manages to tell a sweeping narrative covering a lot of new ground. It leaves me with some things to think about, such as the complexity of the role of the Sàmi peoples in this story and about pronoun-shifting Vikings such as Harvard/Hervor (Issues of gender and sexuality in the sagas). Are Valkyrie and women vikings comparable categories?
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I found this book very interesting and neat! Lots of historical evidence about the real warrior women of the Viking/Nordic cultures. It shows just how important these figures were to the culture and how this empowered the women of the Viking times.
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I received an arc of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review 
. A thought provoking mix of fact and fiction concerning the female role in Viking history. I always enjoy books on Viking history and this was no exception.
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In 1889, in Birka, Sweden, a former site of a Viking trading center, archaeologists find a warrior’s burial chamber. With the amount and array of weapons, valuables, horses, this must have been a great Viking warrior.

Imagine the surprise when in 2017, DNA tests revealed that this high-ranking Viking warrior was a woman.

Viking women didn’t hold the keys to the larder and keep the house. Viking women carried weapons. They carry shields into battle next to their male counterparts. They are heroes. Poems are written about them.

Ms. Brown uses science to link Hervor, to the other Viking trading centers and to the entire trade route. She tells a story of Hervor meeting with the likes of Queen Gunnhild, The Red Girl, and Queen Olga. Hervor didn’t live a long life but she packed a lot into it.

There is so much misinformation from writers in an entirely different era than the Vikings. Mostly by men who have relegated women to the hearth. This well-written and well-researched work shake that old perception off. Women held power and as the author imagines what her life would have been like, she brings the valkyries alive.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The history, the “what ifs”, and the research that went into this beautiful work. Being of Norwegian descent it confirms many of the tales I was told as a child by my grandmother. It was a pleasure to read.

NetGalley/ August 31st, 2021
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A Tenth Century grave found in 1878, in Birka, Sweden had all of the weaponry and artifacts, including the bones of two horses, that confirmed it was a Viking warrior who was laid to rest.  For over 100 years, the presumption was of a strong MALE warrior.    In 2017, DNA results proved that the bones were FEMALE.  After attacks on the presumption that the woman had ever been a warrior, the DNA testing team defended themselves in 2019 stating that “... at least one Viking Age woman adopted a professional warrior lifestyle....” and “[W]e would be very surprised if she was alone in the Viking world.”

Author Nancy Marie Brown has taken the evidence at hand to make a very convincing argument that the woman warrior buried in Birka, Sweden was not an anomaly at all, but one of many that Christianized Scandinavian lore has glossed over.  In the narrative about this unnamed Viking woman, Brown names her Hervor and creates a possible story of Hervor’s life based upon what is known about the Viking world of the tenth century.

Even though my parents were very interested in the Vikings and I was exposed to Viking/Scandinavian history my entire life, I learned a tremendous amount from this book.  I did not know that many of the Vikings dressed themselves in flamboyant silks from trading with the east, nor did I know about Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings or about Queen Olga of Kyiv.  I strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Viking history or Women’s Studies.    

A big thank you to author Nancy Marie Brown, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of this book.
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