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The Real Valkyrie

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Member Reviews

Very interesting and well researched book which lets be honest, now really makes me want to watch Vikings. I love and fully agree with many archeological indications that the Viking society was a hell of a lot more egalitarian than common, sexist history has recorded. Also having been born in Ukraine, it was a lovely surprise to read a whole chapter or two about the Viking roots of my birthplace, one major annoyance: no illustrations in the review copy even though their listing is included. It’s like a tease that never goes anywhere.
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I received an advance reading copy of this book from NetGalley.com in return for a fair review. 'Valkyrie' by definition means: Any of a group of maidens (in Norse mythology) who served the god Odin and were sent by him to the battlefields to choose the slain who were worthy of a place in Valhalla. Author Nancy Marie Brown is definitely an expert on Viking history. Her detailed knowledge comes through in every chapter. The book itself, however, was disappointing for me. I was looking forward to reading an historical fiction novel based on female Vikings--something I know little about--but this was not the case. Brown's chapters were all set up with two sections. The first part was in italics and told a sort of fictional story about Hervor, a female Viking warrior. (Brown's theory--and it is a good one--is that both Viking men and women were of equal stature.) The second part of the chapter dissected every detail mentioned in the first part (food, clothing, housing, customs, etc.) to the point that it read like a textbook. The stories themselves were well-written, but disjointed. In my opinion, the author would have had a much more interesting book if she had stuck to her 'story' and incorporated all of the details into it. If you want or like to read about Vikings--especially the female warriors--you may like this book. For me, it just wasn't what I expected. I did learn one thing, however: the term 'bluetooth' came from a Viking King named Harold Bluetooth. Who knew?
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An epic telling of the often forgotten narrative of women in Viking history.  Well written and researched, a stunning work that captures Viking lore in never before seen detail.
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This is a fantastic look at the everyday life in the Viking Age, that focuses on the role and importance of women in Viking literature and culture.  The author completely rejects the old Victorian inspired ideal of Vikings in favor of one that is more grounded in fact from the archaeological record and what when can glean from sagas written centuries after the Viking age ended.  In all cases, the author's stance is supported by a ton of research:  women were many things in the Viking age, and it was not uncommon to come across female warriors, rulers, war leaders, etc.  Told from an invented (but always supported by factual evidence) POV of a woman warrior found in a high-status grave in Birka, the author has done something very interesting, she's given the warrior a saga-like story that reflects actual events of the Viking Age and reveal what life may have been like for her.  There's emphasis on real life women as well, figures we know from history and sagas, as well as a fascinating look at Viking society, trade, travels, culture, etc. as a companion to the exploits of the Birka warrior.  Anyone who is interested in learning more about Vikings, particularly in a way that does not overlook women in the narrative, will want to check out this book.
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The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown is, at its core, working to dispel the myth that Viking women stayed at home whilst the Viking men raided and traded. In 2017, DNA tests revealed that the body buried in grave Bj581 outside the Swedish town of Birka between 913 and 980 wasn’t the body of a male Viking warrior as initially assumed, but that of a female in her thirties or forties. Buried with the body was numerous weapons including an axe blade, spearheads a two-edges sword, a sax knife and a short bladed knife as well as a set of game pieces, a whetstone, traders weights, a comb, a bronze bowl and two horses (among other things). The assemblage of this burial initially caused assumption that the body was of a male, and specifically a warrior, but since we now know that it’s a woman buried with this warriors assemblage, Nancy has taken it upon herself to write a book highlighting what feels like all the times women proved their worth in the Viking Age, and the times their strength, cunning and ruthlessness was assumed as myth. 

It is obvious that this book was extensively researched. Nancy utilises sagas, poems and epics of the Vikings in conjunction with archaeological and historical evidence to question the way in which females from the Viking Age have been viewed for centuries. Rather than simply providing the evidence that women from the Viking Age have been sorely misremembered thanks to the act of sexing graves by metal, the reflection of Victorian sensibilities of the nineteenth century placed on the Viking Age and the tendency for Icelandic writers of the 12th and 13th centuries (I’m looking at you Snorri Sturluson) to mythologise and generalise the female warriors as valkyries, Nancy merges fiction and solid evidence which captures the readers interest. In order to humanise the skeleton found in Birka, Nancy names the body from Bj581 Hervor, which translates to something like Aware of Battle, after the warrior woman from the old Norse poem Hervor’s Song. Nancy begins each chapter with a fictionalised story, a bit of what Hervor  from burial Bj518’s life could have been like, based upon the historical, textual and archaeological evidence provided throughout the book. Nancy not only provides the evidence for warrior women, but then imagines just how a Viking woman could have lived during the time of Bj518’s life. I found it incredibly fascinating and enjoyable to read how the physical evidence may have been interacted with during the Viking Age, in addition to these imagined sections being a breath of fresh air amidst a detailed and well researched book. One thing that annoyed me through this book was when ‘an archaeologist states,’ or an ‘expert historian says…’ I’d LOVE to know which one. 

Not only does Nancy debunk common beliefs that Viking women were buried with keys which signified their role as housewives, (whereas men were buried with weapons which signified their roles as warriors, raiders and traders), she exposes the bias placed onto the sagas, poems and written sources we have of the Viking Age which were all written a few hundred years after the fact. These biases come from both the values of Victorian society and Christianity, where women were confined to the home. These strict gender lines, as shown through the extensive historical and archaeological evidence provided by Nancy, simply were not there during the Viking Age. Looking at Viking women’s graves alone shows how weapons were more commonplace than keys. I loved the incorporation of other female warriors which we know of from poems as saga’s, as well as historical Viking queens detailed in concurrence with archaeological evidence found throughout the Viking world. Going into detail about clothing, textiles, trade, architecture, boats, social hierarchies, Norse legends, historical and mythological figures and everything in between, no stone is left unturned in this detailed look at the importance of women, their roles and their importance in the Viking world. If you’re interested in relearning everything you think you know about women, queens and female warriors in the Viking Age, then you should definitely pick this book up.
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This is such a fascinating subject! It is contentious, but I love it. Blending history with archaeology and viking culture, lore, magic, and mythology, Brown gives us a picture of just who the person in the warrior grave was in real life. She was not an outlier, but a true warrior in her society. This is a great combination of Norse myth, history, and anthropology.
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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.

Acknowledgements
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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