Friday, December 20, 2013

The Long Ships

The Long Ships, by Frans Bengtsson

Folks, this book is fantastic.  Now you know, so you will go out and read it too, right?

This is the life story of Red Orm, who is captured as a teenager and ends up joining a Viking raiding ship as an equal.  So his years of adventure begin, pillaging, fighting, being captured as a slave, working as a bodyguard...Orm travels around the Europe of 1000 AD and even meets up with a few eminent people.  I was happy that he spent quite a bit of time at the court of Harald Bluetooth.  Eventually Orm even travels to Kiev.

The really wonderful thing about this book is that Frans Bengtsson gives an amazing picture of life a thousand years ago, and he does it amazingly convincingly.  As far as I can tell, Bengtsson really understood how Vikings thought.  (Not that I would know, but he sure is good at conveying that impression and I think he knew his stuff.)  The whole time, I felt convinced that people were really like that much of the time.

This is a really violent story, as you might expect.  There is a lot of smiting, and everyone thinks of it as good entertainment, or really funny.  So if you're sensitive about violence you probably shouldn't read this story, but I think it's a good portrait of the world at the time.  There was so much fighting and feasting and drinking, in fact, that I was reminded of a joke some friends had long ago, about the Vikings' favorite song.  It was sung to the Irish Washerwoman tune and simply went

There'll be fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting
And fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting
And fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting
And fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting...

Anyway, this was a really great book.  I highly recommend it.  

4 comments:

cleopatra said...

This book sounds intriguing. Have you ever read Beorn the Proud? If so, how does this book compare?

Jean said...

Nope, I do not know that book. Should I read it?

cleopatra said...

It is one of the Bethlehem series books. You can see it here: http://www.bethlehembooks.com/content/beorn-proud

While I've loved most of the historical fiction from this publisher, Beorn was not my favourite, but I would say, definitely worth a read. Of course, that's my 2 cents; I've heard others have just loved this book.

Your Long Ships book sounds like it has more mature content than Beorn.

Jean said...

Oh, I see. Like Black Fox of Lorne! (I think it was that one.) Maybe someday I'll get to read it. Long Ships is indeed more mature--I'd give it to teens and up. The pillaging includes kidnapping women, for one thing. It's all quite realistic.