It’s almost Christmas, the only time of year it’s socially acceptable to hibernate under a pile of blankets with a stack of books and mountains of mince pies. And there’s been some amazing books about Vikings and Saxons this year. So, in what has become a yearly tradition, here’s 10 books about Vikings to put on your Christmas list for 2023. So wrap yourself in a blanket, pour yourself a festive tipple, and enjoy!
The Bone Chests: Unlocking the Secrets of the Anglo-Saxons by Cat Jarman. Jarman’s book River Kings was our first recommendation back in 2021, and this is just as well written and intriguing. Instead of the mystery of Viking Leaders, here Cat explores ancient chests that survived the violence of the civil war to reveal their forgotten tales. It’s another phenomenal read that weaves the latest science and technology into a narrative about the people buried within the chests, and the keepers who sought to protect them over the centuries.
Adventures in Time: Fury of The Vikings by Dominic Sandbrook. Here’s one for the Kids! A fantastic series of historical thrillers that tell the stories of the Viking Age: the gods and monsters, Viking raiders and adventurers, kings and warlords, and much more. It’s the kind of volume that I wish I had as a kid. A book about Vikings that captures the conflicting spirit of the age, of violence and dread, courage and romance. There’s not many non-fiction books that do this so well, or so well packaged for younger readers.
Battle for the Island Kingdom: England’s Destiny 1000–1066 by Don Hollway. Making it onto the list for two years in a row following The Last Viking in 2022. Switching from a focus on Harald Hardrada, Hollway instead turns his attention to the complex political landscape of England in the 11th Century, the invasions, machinations and betrayals that paved the way for the armies of Hardrada and William of Normandy to land in 1066. It’s just good stuff!
A Viking Market Kingdom in Ireland and Britain: Trade Networks and the Importation of a Southern Scandinavian Silver Bullion Economy by Tom Horne. A part of Routledge’s Archaeologies of the Viking World series, this a fantastic book for even amateur historians like us. Horne manages to explain the various theories of how Vikings moved their goods around their disparate and lengthy trade networks, and shows the importance of the York and Dublin trade hubs in the wider world, and why the Southern-Danish elite went to so much trouble for it. Also check out the author’s appearances on the Vikingology podcast!
The Deorhord: An Old English Bestiary by Hana Videen. Another author on last year’s list that have released a book just in time for Christmas! Wordhord was a superb look at the lost, forgotten and ever changing words of the English language. It helped the reader understand the lens from which early English speakers viewed and categorised the world – this does book does much the same but with a focus on the creatures, both real and imagined, that made up the old English world.
Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Ruling the World by Louie Stowell. The most import book about Viking gods ever written. At least according to my (nearly) 6-year old who absolutely loves this book. It asks the important questions like “what would happen if Odin made Loki pose as a mortal child and sent him to school?” Loki himself tells the story, with the help of his mostly aggravated diary. Tales of trying to be popular, beating Thor at football, and being the star in the play. But watch out for cursed jewellery.
Vikings of the Steppe: Scandinavians, Rus’, and the Turkic World (c. 750–1050) by Csete Katona. A late contender for my “best book for Viking nerds” award in 2023! Vikings of the Steppe serves as a tremendous introduction to the history of the Vikings that journeyed east. As with other titles in this series, the book brings together the latest scholarship on the subject,. But more than that, the book aims to bridge the gaps in our current understanding of how the Vikings influenced the cultures they met, and how those encounters in turn changed them.
Bede and the Theory of Everything by Michelle P. Brown. The story of the early English people is tied irrevocably to Bede and his writing. And while he was also being one of the most important scholars of the early middle ages in Europe, he never left his native Northumbria. Michelle Brown explores new finds regarding his scholarly work, while diving deeply into his life and work. It’s definitely one for the enthusiast, but it’s great value, covering his early life in Monkwearmouth to his legacy as the Venerable Bede in great detail.
The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec. Genevieve Gornichec once again makes our list with Norse-inspired fiction with this incredible adventure. The author pits oaths of loyalty against the need for power and useful alliances. Gornichec manages to pull the same trick she did the The Witch’s Heart in that she manages to distill the historical (or mythological) norse mentality into her work without making the actions of the characters totally alien. Yet, there will be times when your jaw will be on the floor from those actions. Brilliant.
Beowulf: Translation and Commentary by Tom Shippey and Leonard Neidorf. This book is a timely reminder that a) Beowulf is great and b) Anglo-Saxons aren’t the dour, boring, incompetent blowhards depicted in modern television series, but warrior-poets and absolute lads. This latest translation and commentary is fantastic with the translation itself being accessible, while keeping the tone and language infused with early medieval history.
Make sure to check out last years recommendations too!