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The Real Valkyrie

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Vikings and Valkyries - these two words can conjure up a lot of images, especially today with the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the real Vikings and Valkyries (real Valkyries?) were much more interesting, and although the Vikings we are referencing here were alive more than one thousand years ago.  Even so, we're still learning about how they lived, worked, and fought.  In 1878, in the Viking village of Birka, the bones of a Viking warrior were discovered.  The figure was determined to be a warrior based on what had also been buried with the figure:

an axe blade, two spearheads, a two-edged sword, a clutch of arrows, their shafts embellished with silver thread, a long sax-knife in a bronze-ringed sheath, iron bosses for two round shields, a short-bladed knife, a whetstone, a set of game pieces (bundled in the lap), a large bronze bowl (much repaired), a comb, a snip of a silver coin, three traders’ weights, two stirrups, two bridles’ bits, and spikes to ride a horse on the ice, along with the bones of two horses, a stallion and a mare. 
In 2017 the more fascinating discovery was made ... according to DNA testing, the Birka warrior was female.

Author Nancy Marie Brown takes this information and presents both a historical fiction account of what life might have been like for this Birka warrior (whom Brown names 'Hervor') as well as a very thorough exploration of what a Viking's life was like.  

Brown posits that women as warriors in this time was not at all unusual and that it wasn't until Christianity came to the region (mid-900's) that a woman's role in society was looked upon differently.

In her narrative, Brown has Hervor traveling east in the Gulf of Finland and combines some Estonian mythology from this same time period. Brown writes:

Estonian folklore revolves around women, and while its pagan culture was warlike, women were not excluded from that facet of life. 
The Estonian language ... like all Finnic languages, ... uses only one personal pronoun—no she, he, or it, just tema.
Estonian women and men wore identical jewelry—unlike in neighboring lands, where men, though gaudily bedecked, had their own jewelry styles. Likewise, weapons are found in up to 30 percent of female graves in tenth-century Estonia, along with nongendered objects like tools, implying that women had equal access to power.

In Estonian society, power was corporate. It resided, not in one individual, but in a council. The power of a single council member was limited—even if that councilor was the king or war leader. A charismatic war leader from a strong clan could persuade and encourage, but the decision to go to war rested with the council.

Nor could the council be co-opted by the men. Property, in Estonian society, was also collective; clan-based, it was passed down through the female line. According to a law recorded in the thirteenth century, when a man marries “he shall then let all his goods follow his woman. If he wishes to leave her, he will lose arable land and goods.” A man joined his wife’s family, which made daughters as valuable as sons—or more valuable. In folklore, the mother of an only son is derided as nearly childless. To raise her status, she must bear a daughter.

This clan-based society where power was shared and women were esteemed was confusing to the Christians like Snorri Sturluson and Saxo Grammaticus who wrote about it in the thirteenth century. The church disapproved of—and had worked hard to eradicate—such societies for hundreds of years. Man was meant to rule woman, Christianity taught. A single God-anointed king was meant to rule society. 
This isn't just conjecture, but some solid research, and the 'discovery' that the Birka warrior was female would seem to lend itself to this Estonian clan culture. Brown makes a great case and I suspect that this will be common thinking soon.

My only problem with this book was that I noticed there was a list of illustrations in the back of the book, but my Advance Digital Review Copy did not include any illustrations.

Looking for a good book? The Real Valkyrie is a great non-fiction read by Nancy Marie Brown, which includes a little fiction narrative to help illustrate the idea that women warriors were common among the Vikings and that they were the true Valkyries ("pagan battle-goddesses with shield and sword").

I received a digital copy from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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If a History channel special could be found in book form, it would be The Real Valkyrie. Written with an opening vignette in each chapter, Brown takes us through the reconstructed world of a warrior woman, Hervor.

Based on an elaborate burial in Birka, Brown builds her argument that the actual Viking past, one in which men and women were equal, by teasing out the variety of Queens and warriors from the historical record. She proves that our modern bias that warriors could only be men comes from the Victorian lens in which the Vikings were initially ‘discovered’ archeologically.

Using DNA evidence coupled with modern readings of surviving sagas, Brown reveals the intricate role women actually played. They were just as often heroes, villains and adventurers as we’ve come to expect from their male counterparts. 

Interspaced between factual reporting, Brown tries her hand at fiction, weaving small scenes of how she believes a warrior would have grown, trained and traveled. Brown very explicitly outlines whenever she deviates from the historical record. I enjoyed these scenes, as they brought life to the scant historical record that accompanies the era.

At times, the book delved too deeply into weaving methods or weapon design. But these details did aid the world building. Overall, the book achieves it’s aim - my view of the Viking world has shifted, to a hopefully more accurate view.
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Informative, engrossing and extensively researched!

Birka, a Viking town located on an island outside of Stockholm, Sweden, is home to over 1000 Viking graves. One of the graves was excavated in 1878 and the contents led archeologists to believe it was the grave of a Viking warrior. It was presumed that the warrior was male until 2017.

"In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman."

What was this female warrior's life like?

Science and history collide in this book. The author has done extensive research using archelogy, history, and DNA in addition to poems, Nordic fables, and literature to show what life might have been like for women living in medieval times. Life was not easy back then and Viking women were tough as nails. Viking women carried weapons, they fought, they survived, they lived, they died. The writer informs readers in the beginning of the book that she is using both fact and fiction in this book. She gives the female Viking a name and imagines what her life was like, what did she experience, how she lived.

The author also looks at religion, how history is told, cultural influences and gender. History -How is it influenced? Who does the telling? How are the facts changed? How does religion affect history? How have society’s perception of women, changed how Viking woman have been thought of in history? Interesting things to consider while reading this book.

The author also mentions Lagertha, portrayed by Katheryn Winnick in the show Vikings. That show was the reason, I was interested in reading this book. I found this book to be fascinating, beautifully written and researched. I loved her take on what a female Viking's life might have looked like as she met other notable women during her life. The book is rich in detail and provides food for thought.

Interesting, powerful, and Riveting.

Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
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A great non-fiction look into the lives of female viking warriors of reality. A must read for any heathen who is looking for truth in the roles of women of the Viking Age.
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This was freaking amazing! At first it took me a bit to get into it, but once I did it was smooth sailing and I couldn't put it down.
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If you, like me, are deeply obsessed with mythology and feminism - pick up this book and add it to your shelves! In 2017, a DNA test revealed that a high ranking Viking warrior that had been found in a grave in Sweden, was in fact a woman. Nancy Marie Brown buries the myth that Vikings were a society ruled by men, and brings to light the fantastic and fascinating life of the Viking warrior women. Using science and history to link the found warrior to incredible women of history, this book is a fresh and exciting take on female warriors of yore.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for advance access to this title!
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First off I  want to say a  huge  thank you to the publisher  St. Martin's Press , the author Nancy Marie Brown ,  and to NetGalley for letting me read and review it. While this looks like just a book the history of the Valkyrie as well as the vikings its also a mixture of their mythology which means you get the best of both worlds, and because of that its perfect for those who love history as well as mythology. The author has done an amazing job of bring both to life,so much so that  she weaves the history and the mythology together that you actual just want to keep reading it page after page .
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I can’t wait any longer to review this book.  Nancy Marie Brown is that rarest of scholarly authors:: she has the ability to combine scholarship with imagination and storytelling.  If this book doesn’t instantly become a bestseller, I’ll be very surprised.
I’m Scandinavian, so I have heard some of these tales throughout my life, but never the way Dr. Brown tells them.  She has taken saga material from Snorri and other sources, and chosen from within them, a child, Hervor, to follow on her life’s journey.  So each chapter opens with a bit of her story,  Then she proceeds to add evidence that indeed women as well as men were Viking warriors.  
She is not the first to suppose this.  But, I believe, she has done perhaps the best job.  Through her book, you can learn a great deal about Viking culture, as well as her premise that women were equal to men,  There are many books about Vikings coming out in this present era.  But when all is said and done, I believe The Real Valkyrie will stand the test of time and go on to be a classic for the ages.
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That the writer was able to craft a story that was part myth, part history and part complete speculation and make it as engaging and absorbing as she did is quite a testament to both her talent and the fascinating subject.  There's a lot of artistic license here, but considering how much of the history may have been distorted simply due to gender norms of later dates, I think that's to be expected.
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I was so intrigued when I saw the subject of this book and my read did not disappoint. I learned so much about Viking culture and so much about women in that culture. This book is a mix of history, analysis, and speculation that keeps the individual found at the burial site in sharp focus. The author is detailed with regards to historical resources but also very upfront when it comes to her own speculation and theories. It was easy to keep those sorted in my reading. It does shine a light on how much of history is translated and filtered though the male gaze. 

The writing is engaging. The portions that are speculative read like a novel and are riveting. The historical context is interesting and the analysis of it kept my attention. 

There is so much we don't know about this culture. So many unanswered questions. I think anyone with an interest in Vikings, women in history, warrior culture will find this a great read. 

I highly recommend it. Five stars for the writing. I gave it a 4.5 overall as the speculative viewpoint somewhat dilutes the historical foundation. It greatly enlivened the story however, so I would not change a thing about it. The discoveries are eye-opening and fascinating in their own right. This book gives them the intense scrutiny and attention they so well deserve and brings to the forefront the place of a woman in this culture., It leaves me with answers and even more questions. 

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley and the publisher and this is my honest review.
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This book is a combination of history, archeology and fiction that, together, give a fresh perspective on the lives of female Vikings. It was occasionally repetitive, but always informative and interesting.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy in return for my unbiased review.
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Part history, part criticism, and mostly speculation (which she is entirely upfront about). She makes a good case about re-examining burials people automatically assumed were male and assumptions people have about Vikings. I went in expecting it to be a straightforward history book but it leans more towards a bit of historical fiction. But overall enjoyable.
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I received this book for an honest review from netgalley #netgalley

I chose this book to request because I found the subject of The Valkyrie so interesting. And this book definitely did not disappoint. The history of it is just so gripping.
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This book is an absolutely thrilling read. I am of Swedish descent, and have always been interested in Viking history. I find history in general fascinating. Especially the fun that comes from realizing that almost everything we know was painted over by the Victorians. Why should the Viking history be any different? 

The text of this work is engaging. It draws you into the history in surprising ways. The entire story of the Viking women is completely rewritten here by science and data. We learn that Vikings did not keep their women stuck at home to tend the children, but rather that Viking women were heroes and adventurers just as the men. It is an absolutely riveting read. I highly recommend it.
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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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