Sunday, March 3, 2013

Song of the Vikings - Reviewed

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse MythsSong of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wrote this review for the Historical Novel Review, where it was first published.

Norse mythology has long held the fascination of historians, writers, and artists. We know of Odin, Loki, and Thor. We know of Ragnarok and Valhalla and Fenrir. We know of Valkyries and Vikings. The literary, musical, and cinematic worlds have all benefited from delving these depths. And Snorri Sturluson stands at the heart of it all.

His name is known almost exclusively to scholars of Scandinavian history and culture. Indeed, one might expect a book about him and his writings to be at best esoteric knowledge of little value to anyone outside of academia, or at worst to be terribly boring. Not so, not with Brown’s treatment of this fascinating character.

Had Snorri been nothing more than a successful (if over-reaching) 13th-century Icelandic chieftain, his name would be relegated to the dustiest of bookshelves. But he was also a skald and a writer of genius proportions. And it is in this capacity that we owe him a tremendous debt. He is our main—and often only— source for all the stories we know of the Viking’s pagan religion. His sagas and poems give us the tales of Thor and his hammer, two-faced Loki, the Midgard Serpent, the rainbow bridge, Ragnarok, Yggrdrasil the ash tree, and so many more.

Brown weaves the biography of Snorri with the worlds of Iceland and Norway, saga-writing, and skaldic-poetry composition. She builds a rich world for the reader to explore. I was particularly fascinated by her closing chapters in which she outlines the influence Snorri’s work has had on such disparate developments as German nationalism, J.R.R. Tolkien and his literary cabal (Gandalf is patterned after Odin, and each dwarf’s name is pulled from Snorri’s work), and the birth of the fantasy genre, with its werewolves, undead, elves, and dwarves. Recommended.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Revolutionary Characters - Reviewed

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders DifferentRevolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best books I've read on the founding fathers. Though I've read biographies on most of the individuals written of here, I found the analysis compelling. In particular, I enjoyed the sections on Franklin, Madison, and Paine. Wood's treatment of Madison's seeming reversal of federalist beliefs was particularly enlightening (Wood argues, convincingly, that Madison didn't reverse himself--read the book to find out the details).

Wood's style is engaging, and his command of the subject(s) is obvious. I recommend this book to even the seasoned veteran of all things Founding Fathers.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Between Two Fires - Reviewed

Between Two FiresBetween Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review was first published in the Historical Novel Review. It is 1348 and the Black Death has come to wreak its destruction. Thomas, a fallen knight, finds himself in the company of a young Norman girl. There is an innocence and purity about her that he finds unsettling. More than that, there is a holiness, one that allows her to see angels and to know what path they must take as they make their way through the cursed countryside.

The world of men has found itself caught between the fires of Hell and the war in Heaven. Demons and abominations walk the land, and the walls of Heaven are besieged. The very throne of God is at stake. And all the hopes of this world lie with this one girl, and her reluctant guardian. Thomas must account for his many sins and find the faith he needs to escort the girl to Avignon and aid her in her mission.

Between Two Fires is a dark novel, one full of horrors and a vileness that had me cringing at times. It is full of miracles, demonic beings, and bloody combat. And it is beautiful. The characters are captivating and the action riveting. The world is full, and the story inspiring. It is one of faith, of redemption, and one of loyalties. I recommend this only to stout hearts, but I do so vehemently. I intend to reread the novel and pick up Buehlman’s debut novel.

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