So You Want to Read Viking Fantasy Fiction: Here’s Where to Start

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The Viking Age may have officially ended in 1066 with the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but stories of the fierce Norse raiders and their deeds continue to enthrall. Even today, over 950 years later, an encounter with Viking warriors is only as far away as your television screen, local movie house, video game system, or bookshelf.

While it might be a stretch to call Viking Fantasy its own genre, the sheer preponderance of Scandinavian-flavored fantasy fiction would certainly seem enough to support the claim that it is a sub-genre. Axe-wielding bearded warriors, longboats, Odin and Thor, trolls, berserkers, valkyries, and icy seas: These are some of the things that make Viking Fantasy, and if you’re looking for a place to start, we’ve got you covered.

The cover of the book SE Last Light of the Sun (Canadian Ed)The Last Light of the Sun

GUY GAVRIEL KAY

Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Last Light of the Sun is a tale set in a fantasy world very much like western Europe during the height of the Viking era: a time when Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and of course, Norse cultures clashed for control of land, gold, shipping lanes, and other resources. Featuring a cast of nobles, outcast warriors, and even faeries, this is a great book for anyone looking for an engrossing new world in which to get lost.

 

The cover of the book Eaters of the DeadEaters of the Dead

MICHAEL CRICHTON

Michael Crichton took a break from techno-thrillers for this exciting tale of an Arab courtier who finds himself traveling with a band of Viking warriors. Unknown to him, his traveling companions are traveling northward to aid an ally in a fight against a bestial enemy that raids by night. Eaters of the Dead is a retelling of the ancient saga Beowulf, but one with some unexpectedly Crichtonesque flourishes. You’ll see when you read it.

 

The cover of the book Half a KingHalf a King

JOE ABERCROMBIE

Prince Yarvi was born with only one good hand in a warrior’s world: one where men rule by axe and shield. Rejected by his father as an unsuitable heir to the throne, Yarvi is left with no choice but to find his own way and reclaim a kingdom he wasn’t sure he wanted in the first place. Abercrombie’s Viking-inspired world hides its share of secrets. Prepare to be surprised.

 

The cover of the book Hrolf Kraki’s SagaHrolf Kraki’s Saga

POUL ANDERSON

Poul Anderson was proud of his Scandinavian heritage and often drew from it while writing his science fiction and fantasy fiction. Hrolf Kraki’s Saga is based on an authentic Norse saga about a legendary Viking hero and his band of twelve companions. Hrolf Kraki is a brave but flawed hero: a man consumed by his appetites and vengeful nature — traits that ultimately bring his kingdom down around him.

 

The cover of the book The Swords of Good MenThe Swords of Good Men

SNORRI KRISTJANSSON

Two years ago, Ulfar Thormodsson disgraced his father. His punishment? Escort his highborn cousin on a tour of the kingdom. Their journey was supposed to end at the gates of the town of Stenvik, but it seems that the two men have arrived just in time for a war between old ways and new.

 

The cover of the book A Companion to WolvesA Companion to Wolves

SARAH MONETTE AND ELIZABETH BEAR

The wolfcarls, warriors bonded to ferocious wolves, defended the people of their frozen realm against trolls, wyverns, and other terrors for many an age. Now it appears that their usefulness has come to an end. The monsters who once ravaged their lands seem to have disappeared, and with them the saga of the wolfcarls. But appearances can be deceiving, and it may not be time for the people to let down their guard yet.

 

The cover of the book The Hammer and the CrossThe Hammer and the Cross

HARRY HARRISON

The British Isles may be in the hands of feuding kings, but the Church is the true power behind the thrones. Everyone fears the threat of damnation — everyone, that is, but the Viking raiders that harry the shores of England. As the powers that be squabble, Shef, the son of a Norseman and a captive English lady, prepares for a future of war and the possibility of a kingdom of his own.

 

The cover of the book The Sea of TrollsThe Sea of Trolls

NANCY FARMER

Jack and his sister Lucy are kidnapped from their Saxon village and taken to the court of the Viking chieftain Ivar the Boneless and his half-troll wife. When Jack accidentally casts a spell on her, he is sent forth into the land of the trolls to search for a way to reverse the magic. He won’t be alone, though: accompanying him is the shield maiden and would-be berserker Thorgill, and a mysterious crow that answers to the name Bold Heart.

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Genre Friday – Hobbit Day Tribute Edition

Baggins BDay

Welcome to the house that Tolkien built. Epic Fantasy (also known as High Fantasy) is the quintessential fantasy sub-genre, the fount from which all other fantasy sub-genres have flowed, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves and orcs and rings (oh my) utterly dominate the field. There are, of course, stand-outs and outliers, stories that forge news paths in an old sub-genre, but even when a tale isn’t filled with staff wielding wizards and subterranean, master-craftsmen called dwarfs anything called epic fantasy still contains a few essential elements that were originally established when Tolkien first fleshed out Middle-earth on paper.

Epic fantasies create entire worlds, with long and complex histories and vivid cultures and lifestyles. How complex and vivid? Tolkien actually created (or adapted) a historic timeline leading back to the creation of the world, myths, legends, deities, several races of creatures (many of which have become staples of the fantasy genre), multiple kingdoms, and an entire language for the fictional inhabitants of his world! If you look hard enough in the right places I bet it wouldn’t take too much effort to find someone that speaks at least passing Elvish. They are not all that in depth, but that is the kind of detail you are potentially looking at when you jump into an epic fantasy.

In case that isn’t enough to wrap your head around, epic fantasy also almost always has a large cast of characters taking part in quests and adventures that will affect the fate of an entire kingdom or world. Possibly multiple worlds.

So, it is a complex workout for your imagination and memory. What else?

MiddleEarth

While hand-drawn maps of the world are not strictly mandatory, they are strongly encouraged. 

It’s big. Aside from its often immense geographic scope, as it is not unusual for the cast of characters to have to trek across continents and cross oceans in the pursuit of their goal, these stories can also cover large spans of time, with years, decades or even generations passing by in the course of the story (or series of stories). They are also big in another way – these are not typically short books. Once you get sucked into an epic fantasy series you are in it for the long haul.

 

Examples:

Sheepfarmer's DaughterThe Belgariad series by David Eddings

The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy by Elizabeth Moon

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

The Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks

The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan