Sagas of the Icelanders

IMG_0244Vikings. Epic journeys. Revenge. Love. Feuds. Strange gods and beautiful (very intelligent and occasionally magical) women.

What more can you ask from a book?

(Did I mention the Vikings? Real Vikings. Sold.)

I’ve been eyeing this book for a long time, tempted by the gorgeous cover and the mixture of history and myth, two of my favorite subjects. I wasn’t disappointed. The sagas all date back from between 1200 to 1300, although the actual events portrayed happened quite a bit before that. (And yes, seven hundred year old sagas, and the older men in them were still complaining about the ‘younger generation’. I’m starting to think this may not be an isolated problem.)

IMG_0248That said, this book is glorious. It’s written more in the style of a novel rather than a history, with sharp dialogue, vivid imagery, and believable—even likable—characters. Magic is definitely woven through these stories, but in such a casual, matter-of-fact way that it seemed perfectly ordinary. Men and women are said to be shapeshifters or magicians as indifferently as you might call someone a butcher or a farmer. Spells are cast, homesteads are haunted, and fortunes are told with the same seriousness as a crop being planted, a relative dying, or a woman being betrothed. Magic, or sorcery, was a part of their culture, and it was lovely to see it bleed through in the writing with so little effort and attention.

Iceland and the lands around were rough territories, peopled by men and women as tough as the landscape around them. The sagas follow a central character through their life. The voyages they take, their conquests, joys, sorrows, disappointments, and quarrels are described in vibrant detail. At the same time years or even decades are skipped over with only a few words to acknowledge them. The stories offer a glimpse into the rich culture and heritage of the Icelandic, Norwegian, and Danish people.

In conclusion . . . this book was definitely worth the read. Absolutely lovely. If you are interested in myth, history, cultures (Or Vikings,) I would definitely recommend picking this one up!

“The spinner of fate is grim to me:

I hear that Thorolf has met his end

On a northern isle; too early

The Thunderer chose the swinger of swords.

The hag of old age who once wrestled with Thor

Has left me unprepared to join

The Valkyries’ clash of steel. Urge as my spirit

May, my revenge will not be swift.”

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