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Sunday, July 1, 2018

'the Viking Warrior' - book review

the Viking Warrior - the Norse Raiders Who Terrorized Medieval Europe

Ben Hubbard
Amber Books - 2015

I had picked this up at my last International Congress for Medieval Studies conference (2016). Honestly, the book seller had it for a very good price (think it was about $25 US) and I really only gave it a casual glance when I picked it up, part of a larger purchase.
With the recent publication date (yes, I had checked that), I had hopes for some current information.
But honestly - the second line of the title should have warned me.

Although richly illustrated (the back jacket states 'Includes more than 200 artworks, photographs and maps'), it is the source of those illustrations that becomes, frankly, annoying rather than reveilling. 'Artworks' dominate. Those illustrations are primarily Victorian era, with all the fantasy elements and distortions you would expect. Yes, there is often mention in the captions included of the major errors pictured. My guess is that these images have been selected not for clarity, but simply that, because their age, the images fall outside copyright provisions.
Many of the actual photographs in the volume are images of amature Re-Encactors, or their equipment. Obviously the quality of these re-creations can vary widely. (I really don't see how an image of modern plywood shields best illustrates actual Viking Age objects?) In some cases, the images chosen don't actually represent historic object types at all. There are some artifact images (maybe 1 in 10), but those will be well familar to even the casual observer of the Norse (mainly included from widely available 'open source' collections).
A clear key here is a check to the 'picture credits' as listed. These are almost internet based image collection services. Only a handful are from actual museum sources.

Of the 224 pages, the first third (90 pages) cover 'Viking Origins' and 'Viking Society'. It would be most accurate to say the topics are at best superficial. In a number of cases I found statements either vague, misleading - or just plain incorrect.
The bulk of the book is primarily a brief summary of the major conflict and political developments involving the Scandinavians from the first documented raids in the last years of the 700's through to the 1066 invasions in England.
The book does make consistent reference to both Saga documents and historic contemporary accounts. The pattern here however starts to look a lot more like an attempt to build credibility through the quoting of historic sources - instead of depth of recent research. The bibliography lists primarily popular level works, the volumes most of us have long had in our own libraries.

In total, I would suggest that 'the Viking Warrior' was a fast turn over work, created to cash in on recent pop culture interest in Vikings (largely generated by the recent TV series on the History Channel - with all its own massive flaws!)  At best this book is a superficial treatment of the topic. It might have proved suitable for a high school level introduction, save for the dominance of extremely dated, usually inaccurate Victorian illustrations.

Overall my recommendation would be to save the money, and put the amount towards purchase of perhaps 'the Viking World' by Graham-Campbell'.

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