The Real Valkyrie
The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women
by Nancy Marie Brown
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 31 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 14 Sep 2021
In the tradition of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, Brown lays to rest the hoary myth that Viking society was ruled by men and celebrates the dramatic lives of female Viking warriors
“Once again, Brown brings Viking history to vivid, unexpected life—and in the process, turns what we thought we knew about Norse culture on its head. Superb.” —Scott Weidensaul, author of New York Times bestselling A World on the Wing
"Magnificent. It captured me from the very first page." —Pat Shipman, author of The Invaders
"A delightful addition to women’s history." —Pamela D. Toler, author of Women Warriors: An Unexpected History
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. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.
Nancy Marie Brown uses science to link the Birka warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and to their great trade route east to Byzantium and beyond. She imagines her life intersecting with larger-than-life but real women, including Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings, the Viking leader known as The Red Girl, and Queen Olga of Kyiv. Hervor’s short, dramatic life shows that much of what we have taken as truth about women in the Viking Age is based not on data, but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases. Rather than holding the household keys, Viking women in history, law, saga, poetry, and myth carry weapons. These women brag, “As heroes we were widely known—with keen spears we cut blood from bone.” In this compelling narrative Brown brings the world of those valkyries and shield-maids to vivid life.
"This truly enjoyable and very well researched book is a must-read for anyone interested in Viking Age history and the history of women."
—Michèle Hayeur Smith, Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University
"Brown introduces us to a broader version of the Viking world, and to many powerful Viking women who have been previously dismissed as fiction. The end result is a complex, important, and delightful addition to women's history."
–Pamela D. Toler, author of Women Warriors: An Unexpected History
"An engaging read.. a much needed alternative retelling. The focus on the stories which are so often ignored makes it refreshing and thought provoking."
—Marianne Moen, author of The Gendered Landscape: a Discussion on Gender, Status and Power In the Norwegian Viking Age Landscape
"Engrossing... Brown engages the reader fully with her story-telling and with her unique point of view. She explores things others have not, to my knowledge, explored."
—William Short, manager, Hurstwic, author of Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques
"This amazing book offers nothing less than a paradigm shift... Carefully researched and beautifully written, this journey into the distant past has a lot to offer for current discussions of gender bending, the instability of scholarly “facts”, the dynamics of misogyny, and the legacy of slavery."
—Gísli Pálsson, Professor Emeritus, University of Iceland, author of The Man Who Stole Himself
"Magnificent. It captured me from the very first page. Brown manages to take the limited but startling information that one of richest graves of any Viking warrior ever discovered was that of a woman and paints a stunning tapestry of what life must have been like for a bold, brave woman in medieval times. Drawing upon her deep knowledge of Viking history, she creates an unforgettable character...I loved this book!"
—Pat Shipman, author of The Invaders
Available on NetGalley
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In the 1800s, a Viking burial site was unearthed in Birka, Sweden. The burial included a Viking ship, weaponry, game pieces, horses and riding accessories, and other tools. The grave was documented as that of a Viking warrior, as evidenced by the contents of the burial. As Brown shares in her book, most “sexing” (that is, determination of whether a skeleton is male or female) throughout the history of archaeology has been sexing by metal. That is to say, where weapons are found, it is deemed to be a male, where jewelry is found, female. There are a number of reasons why the field of archaeology has used this approach even as DNA testing has emerged, and Brown provides an interesting overview of this process. In 2017, DNA analysis was performed on the bones found in Birka and led to an unexpected and shocking discovery: they were bones of a female. The Real Valkyrie explores what this means, what has been hidden in plain sight all along, and imagines the possibilities of the life lived so long ago. Using her history of the Icelandic sagas, Brown takes an innovative approach to her book. Taking real life stories, cultural knowledge, and details from the Viking past, she creates a potential life story for this woman, who she names Hervor, after a character in a saga. There are real details folded in. Evaluation of the skeleton provided information on where the Viking woman lived at various points in her life. Aging of the bones placed her within a relatively narrow window of time, and her age at death was 30-40 years old. Melding all of that together, Brown paints a reality-based, fictional story that brings the life of a 10th century Viking woman to life. The start of each chapter includes this fictionalized story of Hervor before shifting into a more common non-fiction exploration of the society at the time, spanning politics, warfare, burial mechanisms, clothing, and more. Throughout the entire book, the undercurrent is an exploration of the gender roles during the time of the Vikings, roles that we learn were not nearly defined as they would be in more modern times. Brown also seeks out information concerning when the story changed, when Vikings started to be portrayed as gender-divided with men as warriors and women as housebound stereotypes. Two major milestones in this evolution can be laid at the feet of Christianity, which morphed the social roles to fit religious requirements, and also during the Victorian Era, when defined gender roles were at their peak. In her books, Brown is interested in exploring what we think we know of history and how it compares to what may have been the true story before future centuries created myths and tales to reinforce their own views. There was so much in this book that was eye-opening. For example, there was gender fluidity - beyond just the blurred gender roles (blurred, that is, by modern standards) - where some women were referred to as “king” instead of “queen” and where some women took on male names and personas for periods of time in their lives. Homosexuality was also acceptable, as long as it was not part of an act of adultery, which was not acceptable for anyone. What was also eye-opening to me is the significant role modern bias has played in how Vikings have been viewed; how, for example, graves were assumed to contain men if they met certain qualifications. It was assumed that women would not have been warriors in spite of ample evidence to the contrary, for example, in the sagas. And, lending the title to the book itself, archaeologists have assumed that the women warriors depicted in Viking artwork and stories must have been supernatural Valkyries because that seemed more likely than the fact that they immortalized actual warrior women. Brown’s book is well-researched and based in cultural documents; she also uses literary license to explore the ‘what if’ of history. How many other ‘facts’ of history are layered upon initial biased perspectives? How much are we a product of our own time and own biases even in spite of having knowledge to the contrary? Nothing Brown said about the Victorian Era or the role of the church in gender definition was new to me, but these perspectives are deeply ingrained in us in a way that makes it harder to see what is staring us right in the face. For anyone interested in the Vikings and their society at large or the history of women, this is a fascinating read that will make you think about the world a little more critically.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! In 2017, DNA analysis was used on the bones found in an important burial site previously unearthed in Birka, Sweden. These bones are believed to be those of a Viking warrior due to the weapons and other tools found within the grave. Scholars were then shocked to learn that these bones belonged to a female. The Real Valkyrie does a fantastic job of using science and archaeology to show that Viking women had more agency than we have previously believed. Brown does an excellent job imaging what the life of the warrior found in Birka, who she names Hervor, might have been like. She uses her expansive knowledge of Viking history and sagas to bring the 10th century Viking world and society to life. The Real Valkyrie shows how modern assumptions and biases have shaped what we think about Viking women more than real data and facts have. This is a well-researched and thought provoking book. While discussing what Hervor's story may have been, Brown shows off her incredible story-telling skills as well. This is an aspect of the book that I really enjoyed. She images how Hervor's life might have intersected with other amazing Viking women such as Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings, Queen Olga, and other figures. It's very enjoyable and engaging to read through. I recommend it to anyone interesting Viking society and history, as well as the history of women. It provides great insight into the subject and makes you wonder what else have historians gotten wrong in the past.
(<b>Note:</b> I received an advanced reader copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley) In 1889, at the site of the Viking trading center in Birka, Sweden, a long-dead warrior’s burial chamber was found, complete with an impressive array of weapons and valuables. However, a far greater discovery would occur well over 100 years after her initial unearthing when DNA analysis showed her to be a woman. It’s this mysterious and intriguing figure who takes center stage in "The Real Valkyrie". Based upon what has been scientifically documented from modern analysis of her remains and the artifacts that the warrior was discovered with, plus a combination of Viking literature and other tools from the historical record author Nancy Marie Brown goes on to construct a story of what this woman’s life might have been like. And as she weaves her tale from chapter to chapter, she touches upon many aspects of life during the Viking era and ends up revealing a world that, amongst many aspects, was a surprisingly diverse one amongst its various warbands, free towns, and kingdoms, and possessed considerable cosmopolitan streaks thanks to a surprisingly large international reach through both raiding and trading that stretched from Ireland to the Silk Road. However, central and most important is Brown’s revelations of a Viking world where the women and men were by no means contained to strict gender roles, especially when it came to picking up a sword. To say the least, the new perspective that the author provides sends something of a battering ram crashing into long-held misconceptions, and I for one could not possibly be more for it. Brown’s creatively realistic imagining of the kind of life that the Birka warrior might have lived finally gives a voice to what seems to be quite a sizable number of similar women who for hundreds of years have long been written off as mere legend or fantasy. And by showing the Viking era to be far more complex than what traditional historical lenses have made it out to be, she also reveals a time and culture that frankly is all far more fascinating than most of us have been able to realize until now.. "The Real Valkyrie" is strongly recommended to anyone currently on the hunt for an eye-opening read.
Well researched and thought out. Tracing the life of Hervor helped me to connect to the information, as personal narratives are always compelling. I especially appreciated the emphasis on how society's biases can color our historiography and view of history. I can definitely use this in my World History and Gender Studies classes.
I received the ARC in exchange for honest review. This was thought provoking and a well researched. I enjoyed goinf into detail about gender roles and the fluidity of these roles during Viking times. While the story of Hervor is fictional, the research and conclusions drawn are logical and quite possible. This is an excellent addition to the topic and an much needed take on women during the period.
Brilliantly imagined, brilliantly executed. This is one of the best, most creative history books I have read. The author begins each chapter with an episode of fiction, clearly invented, but which provides a unique humanizing perspective on the topic covered in the chapter. Each chapter the provides the substantive historical facts based on archeological evidence and source documents, supporting and enhancing the conclusions of the author. The topic of the book, of course, is that females in the viking era were not simply wives and mothers, spinning wool and keeping the home fires burning while the men went a viking. In fact, they were warriors and traders in their own right. But what was most thought provoking for me was the realization that we draw our conclusions and make finds and theories shape our expectations of the current world, even if the historical world had little in common with our own. It made me wonder what inherent biases I bring to my conclusions and my life. In short, this is the best of books: thought provoking and entertaining, well written and well researched. Not to be missed.
I originally thought this book was going to be a historical fiction, but it appeared to have more fact than fiction as it showed how the author had experience connecting historical perspectives along with the storytelling about Hervor's life. I think many of us have preconceived ideas of Viking society and I found this book to be refreshing in how it educates the reader to a new perspective while giving engaging depth to the information. If you enjoy historical writing, this book is certainly going to interest you - but even for those who don't believe themselves to be avid history buffs but enjoy learning even a little bit more about historical societies will find this a worthwhile read!
I'm one of those people who love to read anything history but one of my favorite types is those that show a realistic female presence. Instead of making them ALWAYS housewives, the people look at actual history and science and figure out the truth. This book solidified my dislike of organized religion but that's a rant for another day. I love how the author wove the sagas with factual based interpretations of this Shield-Maid's life. Brown was given a base knowledge of age, locations throughout her life, and what this warrior was buried with and created a realistic human. The way this is written is very accessible as well. My primary focus in history is generally Russian way past the Viking Age but this still made complete sense to me without further research. I know how intimidating history books can be because you don't know where to start your research. I found this to be an interesting and I think it could be a great start to Viking Age research. This would give you the perspective that you can't trust history to show you the women.
I received an ebook from Netgalley for an honest review. This book is an amazing weave of well-researched and compelling facts with engrossing fiction. I truly love the focus on strong and powerful Viking women. Hervor's story will stick with me long after reading this book. Truly a must read!
I don't read enough on the Norse and this book proves it. In a word, it was WONDERFUL to read. I was entirely taken in by this story, much of it I had no clue about. This is going to be a nice addition to my shelf.
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
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.
Special thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for allowing me to read this book in advance in return for an honest review! I cannot get enough of history books, I adore learning about cultures and lives before our own...and who doesn't love learning about Vikings!? This book revolves around one specific Viking though, a woman buried in grave Bj581. With each chapter we learn more about her life and the lives of those around her at the time she was alive (around the late 900s). Nancy Marie Brown is an amazing writer. I was captivated by her use of "fictional" story to portray the woman buried in Bj581 and what could have been her life, while then writing facts about how life was at that time. It is amazing to me how much information has been changed later on in order to suit the patriarchy. Women were not just kept at home and worrying about children, and this book is a wonderful example of what lives women DID live during this time period. I thought I knew a lot about Vikings, but this book will definitely smash the stereotypes and prove how life as a Viking was not what we see in movies. As a woman myself, I found reading this empowering and inspiring! Hearing about what women could do back then as well as Brown herself being able to uncover all this data to this day, really showed how life was not just all men doing things out and about. Women had lives too, and very FULL lives. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a history buff, anyone who wants to know a TRUE glimpse into the lives of Vikings, as well as to any woman who wants to be inspired by a really badass Viking woman! 10/10 !
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.
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.
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.
The author is illustrating the importance of re-examining history without losing our reverence for it.
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.
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: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆」
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.
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.
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.
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.
I just reviewed The Real Valkyrie by Nancy Marie Brown. #TheRealValkyrie #NetGalley https://www.netgalley.com/book/209294/review/769118 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was an interesting book. It is part history, part archaeology, and part historical fiction. The author begins each chapter with an excerpt from the story of Hervor, the name she assigned to the female warrior skeleton. These vignettes are based on Viking sagas and provide a fictionalized account of the life Hervor may have led. I found them enjoyable. They captured my attention and piqued my interest in the nonfictional content presented in the chapter. They also kept the book from becoming too dry while breaking up the extensive amount of factual information. This format was a very effective way to make history accessible to readers who are not necessarily historians. This book is well-researched and very thorough. Anyone studying, or otherwise interested in, the Viking period would be delighted with the wealth of information presented in this book. It offers fascinating insights into the lives of Vikings and those with whom they interacted. I particularly enjoyed the chapters which focused on textiles, clothing, dyes, and other forms of personal adornment. This is an area of personal interest, and I was very pleased that the author devoted considerable attention to this topic. This book would make an excellent reading assignment for a university course on Vikings, the Dark Ages or European history. There is plenty of material here to spark academic discussion. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ACR in exchange for my honest review.
This is a must read for anyone interested in Viking women! Absolutely fascinating. In the 1800s archeologists unearthed a Viking burial site in Sweden and originally concluded the grave to be for a man. In 2007 DNA tasted showed that the Viking was a woman, not a man, which greatly changed our views of Viking gender roles..This book explores the science behind the archeology in a way that will be of interest to anyone who likes knowing how archeologists work as well as the modern bias that caused such mistakes as the incorrect sexing of such burial sites. However, this book uses the burial site to not only tell us what we discovered about this woman and how it changed our perspective on the Vikings, but gives us a fictional take on what her life may have looked like based on the findings. This leads to a mix of fiction and non-fiction that work well together to build the story surrounding this burial site to bring Hervor's story to life. This book explores the gender roles of Vikings and how they changed over time thanks to thinks like the influence of Christianity. Norse myths are also explored, adding fun bits for those who love mythology and what it says about a culture. Really great red for anyone interested in the kind of lives Viking women lived. Disclaimer: I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This is a very engaging read. I appreciated the weaving together of fact and fiction to provide a close-to-realistic-as-possible representation of a Viking-age woman. The depth of research that went into this book is evident when reading, and it adds an authoritative tone to the text overall. Added to that authoritative tone is that the Real Valkyrie is written by a woman, and really, that is most appropriate when it comes to writing about women of the past.
The Real Valkyrie is an engaging piece of scholarship, revisiting the history of Viking exploration, conquest, and culture. The book centers Viking women, showing their essential roles in Viking culture while exposing the flawed conventional narrative which relegates them to supportive domestic roles, or imaginary mythology, while minimizing Viking women's actual extensive participation in political leadership, military strategy, and armed combat. Brown's innovative method integrates occasional fictional extrapolation, with detailed presentation of scholarly research. The result is a readable, fascinating story which corrects historical inaccuracies we've inherited from Victorian anthropology, giving voice to the "real Valkyries" of European history.
Thank you Nancy Marie Brown for a well researched and thought out book. It's a thought provoking read that challenges gender rolls. What if is a powerful question and one that needs to be asked more often. Hervor's story is compelling. Thank you for stretching my mind!
This was an interesting and compelling read about the history of the Viking warriors and that the strongest were probably women. I read Captivating History's The Vikings, and it did not mention one word about Viking women warrior, which was disappointing. Glad I found this! You can tell the author is passionate about the subject and kept her facts and observations honest/genuine. I liked this more than I thought I would and thought this was going to be dull AF, it was not. Told in a narrative fashion like Nathan Philbrick and Rob Chernow's nonfiction favorites. Highly recommended for people interested in ancient and early history. Thanks to Netgalley, Nancy Marie Brown and St Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Available: 8/31/21
This is an object lesson in how our own prejudices and shortsightedness impacts our view of the historical record - even in light of compelling evidence to the contrary. This is a well researched and compelling history of the real women warriors of the viking era, whose histories have been effaced by historians of the recent past.
I absolutely loved this book! I’ve always had a fascination with the Viking history and this book is devoted to the Valkyrie... Viking Warrior Women!!! It is truly an enjoyable read and a well researched book for anyone with an interest in Viking history! ** Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! ** #PamelaReads2021 #100BooksIn2021 #TheValkyrie #VikingWarriorWomen #NetGalley
Awesome, weed read!!! A Great peek into strong female culture of the past hidden or dismissed for a long time. A great read for Viking enthusiasts as well as those interested in the role of women in the past!!
This is a fascinating trip back in time. When watching the Viking TV series, I mostly assumed that the prevalent role that women played was exaggerated for a modern audience. Thanks to The Real Valkyrie, I now know that’s not the case. What we think about Vikings is mostly based on assumptions from the Victorian era, so that’s why female warriors were thought to be ficticious. Thanks to the latest scientific advances, it is now possible to figure out that the bodies in many warrior tombs are women. Using a one such burial, the author imagines what this real person was like, and how she lived. She names her Hervor, and combines the stories from sagas with historical facts to give us a complete idea of these women’s daily lives. From domestic environments to war, Brown writes in an easy-to-follow style. There is mythology, history, art and maybe a little too much detail in some places, like how they weaved their clothing. What an inspiring read for women! I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/ St. Martin's Press!
Quick: what do you imagine when you think of a Viking? Blond. Ox horns sticking out of metal helmets. Warriors. Male. Much of that is wrong--at least, that's the case Nancy Marie Brown makes in The Real Vaklyrie, a paradigm-shifting look at late 10th-century Vikings. The research at the base of Brown's book is surprising but not new. In 2017, archeologists investigating a trove of Viking burials at the site of Birka on an island west of Stockholm, found a remarkably preserved warrior's grave, which they labeled "Bj581." Among the artifacts inside were a sword, a battle axe, and a gameboard. The surprise came when DNA from the skeleton was tested: the warrior was a Woman! (In fact, genetic testing would go on to identify female remains in about 40% of the warrior burials at Birka. Brown stretches the word, "real," in her account of the warrior. In each chapter, she focuses on one element of the grave, mixes in research and archaeology, and sprinkles in details from the Nordic sagas to bring to life a warrior named Hervor, placing her at crucial sites of activity, which stretch from Dublin to the Orkney Islands, to mainland Norway and Sweden, then on to Estonia, the land of the Rus (Russia) and Kiev. Each chapter begins with a fictional account of Hervor and closes with the evidence--both from the sagas and the science--behind Brown's characterization. To be honest, some of the research bogged down the story--I worked to get through the specifics of cloth weaving, for example, or the forging of a sword--but there's a point to the minutiae: total immersion in the life of a warrior woman at the height of the Viking Era. As Hervor's voyages stretched ever wider, my interest grew: new perspectives on the far corners of Europe, populated by these viking raiders (but I repeat myself--one of my favorite lines of the book was "Vikings weren't a race, they were a job description"). I didn't come to The Real Valkyrie with a great knowledge of the Viking Era. I read the book, thanks to NetGalley, and I looked forward to the review I might write. So here it is: I left the reading of TRV with a wealth of new knowledge about Vikings, and a completely new way of thinking about who it was who really set wooden shields on the sides of ships, wore the funny helmets, and sailed the seas and rivers from Vinland to Kiev.
I requested this title because I am a huge fan of the History Channel show 'Vikings' which is mentioned in the book. I was not let down with 'The Real Valkyrie'. I was especially fascinated with how much a human's bones could tell about their life. Hervor was buried with so many weapons that it's undeniable that she was a warrior and a fine one at that. Nancy Marie Brown's writing was so easy to digest that it almost felt like watching a documentary. Diving into Marie Brown's imagination as she tells Hervor's story was a treat and I can't wait for others to read this book!
Nancy Marie Brown has done a wonderful job of investigating the mystery of the role that women played in Viking Age warfare. Using the remains of an uncovered warrior whom she names Hervor, Brown takes us through the Viking Age from the lens of this female warrior. In this world we see the standard gender roles that we assume were common for the time debunked as Brown shows almost all were equal in this time when speaking of gender.. Fans of the character Lagertha from The History Channel’s hit series Vikings will find it fascinating to read and see what it may have been like to be a woman and a warrior in the Viking Age and even see an anicdote on the real Lagertha herself. It is even more fascinating to see how the concept of “shield maidens” may have came into existence. Combining fascinating detective work with amazing scholarship I highly praise Brown’s ability to bring the real valkyries to life.
Is it history? Is it historical fiction? Whatever the classification, this book is wholly immersive and I cannot praise it enough. From pinpointing the sanitization of Viking women’s history (spoiler alert: it’s those darned Victorians) to spotlighting what the actual history may, in fact, be, this book is the best of both history and historical fiction; it transports the reader to a bygone era. Highly, highly recommended.
The Real Valkyrie by Nancy M Brown is wonderfully written, the writing is done professional with every being backed up with facts found. Its so interesting to learn about women Vikings and Nancy worked so hard to create these stories off of the scientific data found. The information paints such a different perspective and story from what was previously thought of Viking women in this time period and it is mind blowing all the things they were able to do and the stature they possessed in society. They were respected and even feared. Thank you Nancy for taking the time to gather the research and paint a beautifully and well written story from the past.
Thank you Netgalley for the ARC. I really liked this book! It was informative and yet was written in an engaging way that kept me reading till the end. I will be recommending my library to purchase it. The imagining of the time period I thought was well done and kept my interest. I thought it was engrossing It really made me think about what a woman went through and I am always interested in books that celebrate the contribution of women through history. I remember hearing about the news in 2017 but didn't dig deeper. The combination of history and what it might have been like for a women in that time period. from the perspective of a woman of the time. I used to think that Valkyries were just a character in fantasy books that I had read. I am glad that I read this. There are other books out there that tell the stories of women in history and this is one that must be read. This is a book to include in any Women's History Month display!
It will surprise no one that everything we think we know about Vikings women dates back to those darn Victorians and their ability to completely Victorian-ize everything. The island of Birka, not far from Stockholm, is home to a once-busy Viking village, meant to control trade routes around northern Scandinavia. It also happens to be home to hundreds of Viking graves. One grave in particular is of most interest to the author, that of a Viking warrior that was first excavated in 1878. Given the items recovered from the grave and the high-status burial provided, for over one hundred years it has been assumed (by dudes who could not conceive of any other option) that the Birka Warrior was male. Not so, says the 2017 DNA test. And from there the author is off and running on a fantastical journey across Europe, imagining what life must have been like for this warrior who lived over hundreds of years ago. The author does a fantastic job using archaeology, history, and the Norse legends and sagas to bring to light a much more accurate picture of how Vikings women lived, fought, and died. In imagining what life might have been like for this warrior, to whom she gives the name Hervor, the author is able to shed more light on the women of the age who were far more independent than the Victorians would have you believe. Using the many varieties of sources previously mentioned, the author constructs an example of what life might have been like for young Hervor. Each chapter begins with a segment of Hervor's "story" - a story which sees her cross paths with other formidable women of the age, from Queen Gunnhild to Queen Olga of Kyiv. While the author has fictionalized what life might have been like for this Birka warrior, each chapter delves deeply into various aspects of life for the real Viking women who lived so long ago. There is extensive research here and the author clearly knows her stuff. The author's knowledge of the sagas and old Norse stories is a wonderful addition to the historical record.
I found this to be an intriguing work of creative nonfiction. The author alternates between an imagined biography of an individual from a real Viking burial with scholarly explanations based on the archaeological evidence and reading ''between the lines' of the Viking sagas. I found her assumptions compelling and the biography entertaining. The only reason I didn't it a full 5 stars is because I liked the character so much that I would have preferred to read more detail in the imagined biography.
First book by this author and was not disappointed. Very well researched and written. Was very gripping and interesting read. Would definitely recommend this.
Ms. brown did a great job of weaving known facts into a story that was very likely to have happened to her Valkyrie skeleton. It was a fresh new view on how women might have actually been during the viking era and the new details that have been uncovered are very fascinating. This book was super easy to read and kept you engaged to entire time.
Although I read my share of historical fiction, I do not read much straight history. However, this book looked very intriguing, so I decided to give it a try — and I am glad that I did! It is uniquely presented, well-written work that is immensely engaging. This book is really an interesting combination of historical and straight fiction, for it focuses on the probable life of a Viking warrior woman, whose remains were found in Birka, Sweden (and whom the author names Hervor), by mixing fictional scenes and Viking literature with credible historical research. I applaud this creative writing style! The result is simply a fascinating look at Viking women and their world in the 10th century — and definitely not dry reading. Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC.
This book follows the journey of Hervor, a girl who became a slave and eventually a Viking Warrior. Brown's examination of our ideas of Viking Warriors challenges the idea that the quintessential warrior was male, or that gender held any bearing in terms of future occupation for the Rus, or Vikings. By examining a grave found at Birka that was for years assumed to be a male warrior's research now suggests that this warrior was a woman, and female warriors were not uncommon. Brown weaves historical research with sagas and poems from the period in which Hervor lived. Through following historical accounts of trade routes and examining artifacts found in the grave, as well as testing on Hervor's bones, Brown manages to theorize how Hervor's life may have been lived. The significance of this book is not whether Hervor's speculative life was accurately theorized here, but rather challenging the idea of the Valkyrie as simply mythological creatures. We now know that in Viking culture, Sami culture, and many of the other nomadic eastern cultures Hervor could have encountered that women were valued members of society and often leaders. Victorian mores and the church's influence tainted our view of this powerful historical figures. This book is worth reading. Brown achieves a balance of speculative "fiction" based in historical facts that immerses you in the time in which Hervor lived.
The Real Valkyrie The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown St. Martin's Press You Like Them History | Nonfiction (Adult) Pub Date 31 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 14 Sep 2021 Great book! I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys history or women's studies. I don't read enough about the Norse and this book proves it. I found this book a fascinating read. I learned so much. Thanks to St, Martin's Press and NetGalley for the ARC. I plan to purchase it for our library. 5 star
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.
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...)
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.
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.
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.
“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.!
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.
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.
.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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Viking warrior women is a history genre that I did not know that needed to read from before this book.
In The Real Valkyrie, Nancy Marie Brown has masterfully blended vivid storytelling with well-researched historical insights to create a nonfiction experience that feels wholly unique as we follow the path of warrior women throughout several centuries of Viking exploration, trade, and conflict. By using a wealth of historical research and insight to bolster a fictionalized story for the warrior woman buried at Birka, Brown is able to explore - with the reader as her guest - the possibilities of womanhood during the Viking Age. In so doing, she is able to strip back the patriarchal assertions laid over this era like a shroud by later writers. Brown is always careful to note where she pulls her descriptions, her assertions, and her ideas from, and the end result is a deeper understanding of the complexities of Viking society. Hervor's tale as Brown has chosen to construct it is compelling, done justice by the feminist lends that has allowed Brown to pick through millennia of Christianized sources. Also noteworthy is Brown's immensely approachable style. While many historians, by the very nature of being in love with what they study, have a tendency to share every detail and lose there reader in the process, Brown has struck the perfect balance, ensuring her readers can follow her at every turn. The end result? A Clear yet expansive understanding of the Viking age.
DNA results proving that the Viking warrior inhabiting a grave was a woman changed everything we understood about Vikings. Brown has written a fascinating and accessible look at the culture, ranging from religion to funeral practices to warrior activity and to the roles of women. She names the warrior Hervor and creates an imagined life for her. Norse legends and songs provide more information that counters what was assumed about Vikings, largely because the values and roles assumed in other cultures were presumed to hold here as well Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. Excellent read.
The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown is currently scheduled forrelease on August 31 2021. 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. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined. Brown uses science to link the Birka warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and to their great trade route east to Byzantium and beyond. She imagines her life intersecting with larger-than-life but real women, including Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings, the Viking leader known as The Red Girl, and Queen Olga of Kyiv. Hervor’s short, dramatic life shows that much of what we have taken as truth about women in the Viking Age is based not on data, but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases. Rather than holding the household keys, Viking women in history, law, saga, poetry, and myth carry weapons. These women brag, “As heroes we were widely known—with keen spears we cut blood from bone.” In this compelling narrative Brown brings the world of those valkyries and shield-maids to vivid life. The Real Valkyrie is a thought provoking and engaging read that grabbed my interest on the first few pages and would not let go. The exploration of the known history, texts, and archaeological findings takes a deeper look at the lives of viking women, especially the possibilities surrounding the remains of one female viking warrior. Science and a more well rounded look at our history acknowledges how the mores and ideals of Victorian society has skewed the perception of viking lives. The writing is engaging and holds the readers interest, and I found the subject matter to be handled expertly and with passion. I highly recommend this read for anyone interested in the subject matter, and for readers that want to explore how preconceived notions and ideas can hindering understanding other cultures both past and present. I am excited to explore the author's recommendations for further reading on the subject and appreciate the endpages content with proper citations and useful information. The Real Valkyrie is a thoroughly researched and well written book.
In 1889 in Birka, Sweden, archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe documented the grave of a highly-ranked warrior of tenth-century Norse society who had been buried with weapons, silk garments, and two horses among other things. For more than a century, it was assumed that the person in the grave (designated Bj 581) was male. A 2017 report refuted this assumption, stating that a DNA test confirmed that the person in grave Bj 581 was female. This had the potential to turn the modern understanding of Viking Age culture upside down and led to significant controversy. Some historians refused to believe that a woman could be a warrior and declared that the grave goods were merely symbols of honor, and had not been used by the woman during her lifetime. Others stated that if male skeletons buried with weapons were called warriors, then the same logic applied to female skeletons, too. The woman in Bj 581 was tall for the time, and analysis showed that she had been healthy up to her death. The weapons showed signs of use, and so were likely not merely ceremonial objects. What does this mean for our understanding of the Vikings? It’s hard to say for sure. There are many ways to read the information we have about the woman in this grave. In her new book, The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women, Nancy Marie Brown imagines a possible life for this woman, who she names Hervor after the heroine of the twelfth-century saga, The Saga of Hervor and Heidrik. As she follows her imagined Hervor through her life, Brown discusses a wide range of people and topics: Gunnhild mother of kings, weaving, blacksmithing, the economic impact of slavery on the Norse culture, certain fashions, and weaponry. Among others. The effect that this collection of topics has on a relatively slim history book (nearly twenty percent of its 336 pages is given over to notes and bibliographies) is to give The Real Valkyrie the feeling that it is a very glancing overview. There isn’t enough room to give any one topic a significant page count. To do so would make the narrative feel as though it had gotten stuck dealing with a pet topic that refused to let the book continue at its quick pace. And while a quick pace may work well for a mystery novel, it’s perhaps not the most desirable trait for a nonfiction book about history. There are almost too many topics addressed, and while it is important to remember the value of so-called “women’s work” such as spinning or weaving to all eras of history, a long discussion of weaving methods– that Brown suggests would have been outside of her Hervor’s interests and experience– feels a little out of place, though if the whole book had been longer with more pages devoted to each topic, the examination of the topics historically regarded as “feminine” would have flowed more naturally into examinations of the more “masculine” topics. Still, there is a lot to both learn and enjoy in The Real Valkyrie. As historical narratives widen to include a broader scope of human experience, it’s important to look back and consider that our understanding of history– especially the historical narratives we in the West have inherited from the Victorians– may be entirely wrong. Human beings are complicated now, and they always have been, so a view of history that tries to put every person into a tidy little box neglects the messy and complicated natures of humans. And if we refuse to acknowledge our messy history, it makes it easier to disregard the complexities of the present and future. Is Brown’s imaginary life of Hervor an unlikely one, given that she meets a series of legendary tenth century-women? Perhaps. But Brown makes sure to point out that Hervor’s story is mere conjecture based on limited information. It’s an intriguing story, though, and it takes the reader across a wide swath of the tenth century Viking world, from Ireland in the west to Russia in the east while introducing us to real historical figures such as Eirik Bloodaxe and his notorious wife Gunnhild, called Mother of Kings. With its discussion of women’s places in the Viking era, The Real Valkyrie helps to expand upon an ongoing conversation (or fiery debate, in some circles) about current preconceptions of the roles of men and women in Medieval Europe. As more graves are analyzed and with more skeletal remains being sexed with the aid of DNA scans, we’re going to find that the people of the Viking age were more complicated than we give them credit for today. Our views of these men and women will have to grow more nuanced, and books like The Real Valkyrie will help readers begin to navigate the new research– and the new views– about people who have fascinated us for a millennium. ----- Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.
The Real Valkyrie, The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown, is a meticulously crafted, well-researched dive into women's everyday lives in the Viking Age. An absolutely thrilling read that is perfect for those who find history in general fascinating.
In the late 1800s a grave was discovered in Birka, Sweden that contained bones dating to the 10th century. The grave also contained an axe, spearheads, swords and other materials that indicated a Viking warrior. It was not until more than one hundred years later that DNA testing revealed that this was a woman. Nancy Marie Brown imagines the life of the woman in grave Bj581, giving her the name of Hervor. Each chapter begins with a dramatized episode from Hervor’s story followed by an explanation of the history or culture reflected in her story. This is a well researched history of the Vikings and the women in their society. The image of the Viking woman that most people are familiar with was based on Christian influences and standards of Victorian society. Brown’s history looks at Snorri Sturluson’s Sagas of Norway’s Kings and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as well as the sagas and poetry that have come down through time. She brings historic figures like Queen Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, to life. Explaining how the written sagas could be dated by the materials used to record them, how the clothing helped to convey status or the fluidity of gender roles make Hervor’s story and The Real Valkyrie a fascinating book. This is highly recommended for anyone interested in Nordic history or the roles of women in history. I would like to thank NetGalley and St. Martin Press for providing this book for my review.
When a high-status grave is discovered in Birka, Sweden, it is assumed to be that of a male warrior. A DNA test in 2017 reveals the truth: the body is that of a warrior woman who died between the ages of 30-40 years old. What was her life like? Was she an anomaly in history or were women warrior more common than we previously thought? I know next to nothing about Viking history beyond the most basic details: Vikings were warriors, raiders of towns, and were a violent group. So it was interesting to learn a little more about them in this book. The author draws on stories, poems, and myths of history to weave a fictional story about the woman she named Hervor. Each chapter begins with a fictional scene and then a detailed account of why she wrote it as she did. I will admit that the very first scene with Hervor facing her ghost father to collect his sword from his grave nearly made me put the book down. It is drawn from a poem, but it not my cup of tea. Thankfully, that was the only supernatural scene, though there are mentions of "magic" used by the Vikings in their lives. There were some "hot takes" on Christianity that I disagreed with, but those were easily ignored. I learned enough about the Viking way of life to be immensely glad I never had to experience their brutal way of life. Overall, this was an interesting book, though not an easy one to read. I did have to take it chapter by chapter and in small chunks. I would recommend this to readers looking for a detailed non-fiction look at Vikings with fictional scenes to bring it to life.
The author has an engaging way of conveying history that keeps the reader engaged and interested. To be honest, I had little knowledge about the Viking warrior women but Nancy Marie Brown has thoroughly done her research on this well-written and informative book. This is a definite purchase for our library and history buffs everywhere will enjoy this!
The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown was an absolutely fascinating read. I've always been in Norse and Viking history, but I haven't read many quite like this one which follows a real life female Viking warrior. I enjoyed the archeological aspect, the history, and I loved that at the beginning of each chapter she's created a little story about who the Birka warrior who she names Hervor could have been. This book totally sucked me in and it's incredibly well researched. I need to read more from this author in the future and other books like this as well.
The Real Valkyrie: the Hidden History of the Viking Warrior Women by Nancy Marie Brown weaves together archaeology, history and literature to imagine the life and times of the Viking Warrior Women. In 2017, DNA tests revealed that the Viking warrior found in the famous grave, discovered in Birka, Sweden in 1889 and designated as BJ581, was actually a woman. Much to the collective shock of scholars and challenges all that has been understood about the men and women of the Viking Age. Ms Brown uses science to link this warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and their trade routes east to Byzantium and beyond. She imagines what it would have been like for Hervor if she encountered the larger than life but very real women in history, including Queen Gunnhild, the Mother of Kings, The Red Girl, a Viking leader, and Queen Olga of Kjiv. Ms. Brown challenges the common “truth” that has been passed on about the Vikings, which is based on the nineteenth-century Victorian biases of men’s and women’s roles in society. In truth, Viking women carried weapons, not just the keys to the household. The Real Valkyrie is well researched, beautifully written as Ms. Brown opens the doors to the what-might-have-been life of the Birka warrior and challenges the preconceived notions of how the Viking society really functioned. In the Viking Age (approximately 750-1050 AD) was more than the marauding travelers who raided the far-reaching lands. They were traders, explorers, farmers, poets, engineers and artists as well. Through her use of history, law, saga and poetry, Ms. Brown opens up the Viking world like never before. There were a few statements made that showed Ms. Brown’s own biases when she is attacking the Victorian biases. However, I chalk it up to her own opinion and assumptions as no writing is bias-free. Despite these biases, The Real Valkyrie is an interesting look into a society that many do not hear about and yet a society that helped shape the world as we know it. Overall, it is a lesson that we cannot judge a society based on our own assumptions. If you are interested in the history of the Viking Age and the story of what could have been the Birka warrior, I highly recommend The Real Valkyrie. The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of the Viking Warrior Women Is available August 31, 2021 in hardcover and eBook
"The Real Valkyrie" studies the history of the Vikings as we know it through a new lens: modern archaeology, free of the Victorian limitations we have allowed to color our thoughts of their world for so long. Others will call it feminist. How about both- as well as extremely interesting and well-written. Modern technology has been used to go over bones buried in Birka Bj581, a warrior's grave in Birka, Sweden. Because of the weapons and others items traditional archaeology has associated with men, this grave was identified as a war leader, a brilliant warrior, and a man. Today we know the bones are of a woman. Does that make the rest of the story the burial told, that of a well respected warrior, less true? Brown uses modern archaeology to analyze myths, legends, and history to search for the "real valkyrie"- who she argues was not a mythical being but in fact a warrior woman. Brown argues that women in the Viking age had a much larger role than has previously been assigned to them- that they were capable leaders, rulers, merchants, and warriors just like men. I found her arguments very interesting and certainly found myself agreeing that we cannot look at history through the filter of those who wrote about other people. In the case of the Vikings, this would mean men, Christian men, telling about a world