Friday, 4 April 2014

Swords in Rock and Harald Fairhair

The "Swords in Rock" monument seems to be an everlasting motif in the online Viking communities. I took this picture this evening just an hour before sunset. Spring is coming to Norway – now the days are longer than the nights – but only a week ago the weather still was grey, as shown in the photo below. 

Swords in Rock monument

"Swords in Rock" is a sculpture made by Fritz Røed. It is placed in Møllebukta (the Miller's Bay), which is a very popular recreation area in Stavanger. I ofte take an evening stroll along the seaside in Miller's Bay, experiencing the nature and the historical surroundings.

The Miller's Bay and the monument lie at the bottom of Hafrsfjord, where the famous King Harald Fairhair won a great battle in 872 AD. Having defeated a lot of petty kings supported by the Danes, he is regarded as the king who united Norway into one kingdom.

Harald Fairhair
Could Harald Fairhair have
looked like this?
King Harald Fairhair had several wives and fathered a lot of sons, who after his death fought among themselves for supremacy. Eric Bloodaxe were among the sons, and so was Hakon the Good, who was fostered by King Æthelstan in England. Coming home from England, Hakon defeated Eirik Bloodaxe, his brother, who fled to Northumbria where he later became king. After a few years Eirik's sons took revenge and killed Hakon the Good in a fierce battle on the West Coast of Norway.

Among Eirik Bloodaxe's sons, Harald Greycloak was the most prominent, and he is a major figure in "The Viking Series" (in which "The Slayer Rune" and "The Lethal Oath" are the first books, and Sigurd (who is later to be called Sigve The Awful) is the main character).

In the books, set a hundred years after the Battle of Hafrsfjord, the descendents of Harald Fairhair still fight over lands and power, and Sigve the Awful finds himself squeezed in the middle between Harald Greycloak and Godred Bjornson, another of Fairhair's powerful grandsons.

At this time in history, the Norwegian kings had close relations to the kings in England, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, and Sigve the Awful, who becomes a great warrior and swordsman, will in the Viking Series soon have his hands full in the struggles between the mighty kings. Exactly how Sigve will manoeuvre in these struggles are among the things I ponder when I stroll along the beaches in Hafrsfjord watching the Swords in Rock sculpture.

In the first two books, young Sigurd is still trying to find his place in his Viking world. A task that becomes very complicated when he falls in love with the mysterious thrall girl Yljali.

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Viking novella for only $0.99!

A new episode of Vikings is due, and for the remaining period of season 2 of this wonderful TV series you can buy The Slayer Rune for the special price of $0.99! The book is a historical action-adventure novella and the first instalment in a series from the Viking Age. The second book is titled The Lethal Oath ($2.99).

Vikings. Bjorn, son of Ragnar Lothbrok. Bjorn's first battle.
I can't wait to see Bjorn's first fight.
 Bjorn, in Vikings, being the son of Ragnar Lothbrok and Lagertha.

There is a growing interest in the Viking Age, and modern people seem to be inspired by the Vikings at multiple levels of myth, legend, and actual history. Movies like Valhalla Rising and TV series like Vikings include both mythological and historical elements, even if creative uses of legendary motives seem to dominate. Authors like Bernard Cornwell, Robert Low, J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin are all deeply influenced by Viking culture and Norse mythology, and the lyrics by music bands such as Amon Amarth are all about Odin, Loki and Ragnarok. In this blog I try to cover some aspect of the profound influence the Viking Age has on modern popular culture.

I also write Viking stories in the form of short novels, and without making invidious comparisons, in my books I try to create a world and an atmosphere in which social, mythological and historical events are equally important in the lives and experiences of my characters. Even if the stories contain supernatural elements, the books are nevertheless realistic in the sense that long-forgotten creatures, powers, and gods are treated as if they were real, an integral part of the world in which I imagine Sigurd and his family lived. For me it is extremely inspiring try to describe the feelings and sensations of my characters as realistically as possible and at the same time create action and suspense for the readers.

When I put so much effort into writing my Viking stories as entertaining as possible, I also hope to get as many readers as possible. For some weeks, therefore, the first book in the series will be sold for the give-away price of $0.99. Buy it and enjoy yourself!

John Snow. The Slayer Rune. Special prize: $0.99
(NOW $0.99!)

The Slayer Rune - book description:
The first book in a new Viking series, The Slayer Rune tells how Sigurd becomes a fierce warrior and the youngest chieftain in the realm. It is a story of love and hate and Viking action, infused with Norse mythology. Sigurd's thwarted love forces him to do dark deeds, and through violent actions he discovers the powers of runes. His hard-won, secret knowledge will in turn make Sigurd a great player in the wars between the mighty kings of Norway, Denmark, and England.

The Slayer Rune is a historical action-adventure novella with slight supernatural elements. In this first instalment in the new series, the stage is set in Norway in 967 AD. Young Sigurd, the chieftain's son, is in love with Yljali, a pretty, foreign thrall girl. Helgi Blackbeard, the king's captain of arm, has also discovered Yljali's beauty, and he wants to possess her. Helgi Blackbeard is a powerful man, but he is not the only one lusting for the girl. Harald the Chieftain, Sigurd's father, often looks in her direction. 

In his battles, Sigurd has friends and helpers. The old and mysterious Grim reveals the secrets of runes to Sigurd, and Gisli, the captain of arms at Vik, owns a very special sword. But when Sigurd decides to act, he sparks off a chain of event that no one is able to control.
In the book you’ll meet Odd the Squinter, Bork Berserk, Skarphedin the Second-Sighted, Hakon, Hild, Sigrunn Silkyhair, and the Witch from Spedale; unique characters who play pivotal roles in the exciting story.

John Snow. The Lethal Oath

The Lethal Oath - book description:
The Lethal Oath is the second book in The Viking Series. It's a historical action-adventure novella with Sigve the Awful as the main character. The story is set in Norway in the late Viking Age.

In the book, Sigve enters into a hot erotic relationship with Ylajali. She is a  mysterious thrall girl and the only person who knows secret of Sigve's sword. She knows the slayer rune, the spell that quickens the sword and gives its wielder superhuman strength.

Despite his young age - and mostly because of the slayer rune - Sigve has gained reputation as a swordsman. In the beginning of the book, Sigve becomes the youngest chieftain in King Godred realm. During the inaugural feast, on his sword, he swears a sacred oath, only to discover it stands n the way for his getting Ylajali in bed. 

He breaks the oaths with dire consequences. His sexual desire gets out of control; he finds himself in conflict with both his mother and his captain of arms, and he gets deeply involved in the war between King Godred and Harald Greyfell, two mighty kings. Soon Sigve has to fight for Ylajali, for the people at Vik, and for his own survival. 

The Lethal Oath has many unique characters, such as Odd the Squinter, Skarphedin the Second-Sighted, Sigrunn Silkyhair, Kale Curved-Cock, and his daughter, the Body. They play pivotal roles in the plot. So does Odin, to whom the oats are sworn. According to Grim, Sigve's one-eyed tutor, everyone's life is entangled in the great struggle between order and chaos, a fact Sigve ignores, blinded as he is by his lust for Ylajali.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Review of Vikings Season 2

After two episodes in the second season of Vikings, we see a new conflict evolve, between Ragnar Lothbrok and King Ecbert, ruler of Wessex. On their voyage to raid in Northumbria, the fleet of Earl Ragnar and King Horik runs into a storm, gets out of course, and lands in Wessex. Here they meet King Ecbert's warriors.

Rollo in season 2 of Vikings
Going into battle bare-headed and stripped to the waist.
Not a very smart way to face sharpened longaxes,
swords and spears.

It took nearly two episodes to establish a new conflict in the series. In episode one, nothing much happened. The old conflicts were renewed: Lagertha had to give way for Aslaug, Ragnar's new woman, and Lagertha left him, taking their son Bjørn with her. Ragnar is still in conflict with his brother Rollo and with Jarl Borg. Of course the whole season opened with a great  battle full of blood and killing, very well made. Such battle scenes nevertheless make me reflect on how much film depends on showing events visually. In the turmoil of battle, for viewers to be able see who is fighting who, the creators (in this case Michael Hirst) have to strip the heroes of their helmets, and in Vikings even of their mail. To let warriors fight without any forms of protection, stripped to their waists, may be sexy, but in real life it would have been sheer stupidity.

Anyway,  having seen the Season 2 Trailer on YouTube, many fans of the series feared that Floki would die, but he survived the battle, and in episode two has finished building Ragnar's fleet and made it ready to sail west into new battles. In England the conflict with Ecbert will develop, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the episodes. As in the first season, the show has lots of exiting characters, good action, and realistic Viking settings. I'm sure the conflicts will deepen, and I'm also sure that more unrealistic battle scenes will impress both me and many other fans.


On the blog I've written more post about Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok, Aslaug, and other legendary and historical persons in the series:

For all who want to read Viking stories, I have written two novellas (The Slayer Rune and The Lethal Oath) and I'm working on a third (Gold).

For an analysis of the use of mythological symbols in this teaser, go to The Viking Rune (blog).

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Vikings: Life and Legend

Today I received a very encouraging message from one of my readers. He had read an article in The Guardian about the coming Viking exhibition at British Museum. In a review of the exhibition the Guardian journalist asks for a more engaging Viking story. My reader had titled his message: John Snow tells the story.

Tha background is that  British Museum in London opens the exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend on the 6th of March this year. It is the largest Viking exhibition at the museum for more than 30 years and at its centre is Roskilde 6, the biggest Viking ship ever found. From stem to stern it is unbelievingly 37 meters long.

Roskilde 6, 37 meters long; the largest Viking ship ever?
Roskilde 6, 37 meters long; the largest Viking ship ever?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Wit & Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister (and a season 4 trailer)

The Wit & Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister

Season four is coming, and I bought the book to shorten the waiting time, but The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister is hardly worth its price. (Not for one who has read all the books twice, anyway). It's a small and thin book with one short word of wisdom per page. However, admittedly, those words make me smile.

 Example one: “When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you are telling the world you fear what he might say.” 

 Example two: “A sword through the bowels. A sure cure for constipation.”


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Harald Hardrada in book trilogy

The last couple of years I've read a lot of British historical fiction with action from the Viking Age: Bernard Cornwell, Robert Low (my favourite), Giles Kristian, Tim Severin and others. For a Norwegian (used to the Scandinavian heroic view on the Vikings) it is very revealing to get the Viking Age interpreted from a British and often English perspective.

Among the many professional authors there are also some indie authors writing from the Viking Age, and here on my blog I've previously reviewed A.H. Gray and now Peter C. Whitaker.


  The War Wolf (The Sorrow Song Trilogy #1)The War Wolf by Peter C. Whitaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The historical fiction novel The War Wolf is the first in a trilogy about the events in England in 1066. In The War Wolf the author, Peter C Whitaker, tells the captivating story of The Battle of Fulford, which marked the beginning of an extremely consequential chain of events that would change the history of England and the World.

According to the author, the Battle of Fulford Gate is the forgotten battle, overshadowed by the more famous battles of Stamford and Hastings. The Battle of Fulford is nevertheless an important part of history and its outcome was important for the following actions and events. In the battle Harald Hardrada and a huge Norwegian army crushed a Northumbrian army lead by Eorl Edwin and Eorl Morcar.

In the novel we meet King Harald Hardrada (the war wolf), the Northumbrian earls Edwin and Morcar, the brothers (and enemies) Tostig and Harold Godwinson (King of England) and a lot of other historical and fictional characters, with the Northumbrian commander Coenred as the most important of the fictional characters.

A great number of characters is usually no problem in a book, but when many persons are made into point-of-view characters, such as in The War Wolf, this may be demanding on the reader. At least this reader finds the many POV characters and frequent shifts of perspective rather problematic, especially since so many of the shifts are done with little warning or indication as to whom is now thinking and perceiving. I often miss a central point of view from which the story is told and find the third-person narrator is only one of a plethora of perspectives fighting for prominence.

The writer often uses long sentences that usually runs smoothly, but when such sentences are brought into the dialogue, I feel the dialogues rather stilted.

This said, most of the descriptions of weather, landscape, weapons and fighting is engaging and after some time you get to know the characters. As the story unfolds (and you get used to the strange shifts in perspectives) the events take you and the books becomes very exciting. The description of the Battle Fulford is very engaging and all in all The War Wolf offers a good read. I look forward to the second book in the trilogy. I guess that book will be about the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Harald Hardrada dies at the Battle of Stamford Bridge
Harald Hardrada dies at the Battle of Stamford Bridge

View all my reviews

Monday, 3 February 2014

Amon Amarth "Father of the Wolf" (with lyrics)

"Father Of The Wolf"

So he found the heart in barren land
It was beating, still alive
He held it gently in his hand
And looked up to the sky

With evil thoughts of vicious kind
And sinister disdain
His thoughts of bringing back to life
The witch that died in flames


Serpent's kin
Born of sin
Dark within
Father of the wolf!

He then devoured Gullveig's heart
And she was born again
They brought to life an evil force
A beast that can't be tamed

With dark deception in his soul
Betrayal of the gods
The bane of Oden now is born
Born of evil blood


Serpent's kin
Born of sin
Dark within
Father of the wolf!

They brought to life a malicious force
A vile beast that cannot be tamed
Fimbultyr's nemesis now is born
A vile beast that can't be restrained

Deception is his
Betrayal of the
Oden's bane is
Born of evil blood!


Serpent's kin
Born of sin
Dark within
Father of the wolf 

Amon Amarth

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Film trilogy about Harald Hardrada: A real game of thrones

If last autumn's rumours are true, a tree-part movie - a film trilogy - will be made about Harald Hardrada. That is a rumour that I - with my choice of profile image - really hope is true. Harald Hardrada (hard ruler) is one of my favourite Viking figures; he lived a fantastic life and died a most spectacular death. He was the great Norwegian warrior king who tried to conquer England in 1066.

Harald Hardrade in a tree-part movie
Harald Hardrada talking with Sweyn Estridsson while they
were still friends. Sweyn later became King of Denmark and
Harald's enemy. Harald, who became King of Norway,
 meant he had a legitimate claim to the Danish throne.
(This drawing is from Snorri's Heimskringla and the
observant reader will see that my profile image (illustrating
 John Snow, my pen name) is built on this drawing.)

According to the Norwegian newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad, Barrie Osborne will produce a film trilogy based on Harald Hardrada's life. Barrie Osborne is the well-known producer of Matrix and The Lord of the Rings. It is not clear if this film project is the same as Warner Brother's King Harald in which Leonardi DiCaprio is rumoured to play Harald Hardrada.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Harald
Hardrada in planned movie?