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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Long Ships : A Saga of the Viking Age » User review

Finally got it & read it!

  • Aug 18, 1999
Having heard so much about this saga-type novel I sought it eagerly & finally broke down & bought it via amazon uk (after a long & fruitless hunt stateside). Rather expensive for this paperback w/lots of typos & editing problems, I thought. But the book, I judge, was worth it in the end. The tale of Orm Tostesson & "friends", this book follows the adventures of this typical late tenth century viking through nearly all the high-points of vikingdom in the period. From raids & servitude on the coasts of Moorish Spain, to visits with Irish monks and dinner with the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, and his assorted guests, including no less a worthy than Styrbiorn Olafsson, the Jomsviking and claimant to the Swedish throne about whom E. R. Eddison wrote so brilliantly in his own viking novel, Styrbiorn the Strong, this book takes us through all the paces. Orm ends up with a very noble wife living in a backwater part of Scandinavia (the borderlands between Sweden and medieval Denmark) but even there he gets no peace since his enemies and adventures pursue him. And in his maturity another and final adventure comes his way when he is summoned to the eastern reaches of far Gaardarike (the country that was to become Russia) to claim an "inheritance" of great value. Along the way, Orm makes some good friends, some bad enemies, participates in some (but by no means all) of the great events of viking history in that period, and finally mellows to become a better man who embraces the new way of thinking while yet feeling at home in the old.

I did think the book a bit too episodic though this is no indictment of it since the sagas themselves are nearly always such and the "voice" smacks very much of the sagaman's art. However, a close reading makes this very clearly a modern novel for the humor is quite bracing and alone marks this tale out as one of ours and not one from an earlier time. I especially appreciated Orm's hypochondria, despite his courage in the face of battle, a very human and humorous touch! And the fighting is all very realistic, no great superhuman feats of derring do (except occasionally as we find in the real sagas). Some of the literary technniques used, besides the marvelous sense of tongue-in-cheek humor, are also quite contemporary. I did think the tale a bit slow in places, especially at the beginning, and rather more predictable than not.

And, more, it is not, in my opinion the best of the viking or saga novels despite what others have said here. For tautness and action, none have yet done it better, in my opinion, than H. Rider Haggard with Eric Brighteyes. For the pure poetry of style, Eddison's STYRBIORN THE STRONG still has my vote. And for the resounding greatness of the tale and the power to move, no modern author has ever penned a better saga novel than Hope Muntz did with The Golden Warrior. But Bengtsson did a very nice job and deserves five stars for it. I take my hat off to him and to those here whose reviews obliged me to obtain and read this fine viking tale.

(For those with an interest in the saga as novel, a few other good ones I'd recommend include Cecelia Holland's very modern and psychological Two Ravens, a glimpse into the hot-house environment of an Icelandic farm, and Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders which tells of the final days of the the Norse settlement in Greenland as the cold and the Eskimos closed in around the settlers there. And if you still have any patience and want more, perhaps you'd want to try my own small effort, THE KING OF VINLAND'S SAGA, which I wrote to be the saga I'd always wished had been written and preserved about the Norse excursions to this part of the world. All, I believe, are available in some form or another on-line. Mine I know is.)

Stuart W. Mirsky
Author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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Stuart W. Mirsky ()
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I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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"The literary equivalent of an action- and intrigue-filled adventure movie that won't insult your intelligence...Orm is a charismatic character, and Bengtsson is an infectiously enthusiastic and surprisingly funny writer — even readers with zero interest in the Europe of a millennium ago will want to keep turning the pages. All novels should be so lucky as to age this well." --NPR

“This extraordinary saga of epic adventure on land and sea…is a masterpiece of historical fiction…The Long Ships should be a rare delight. And not least of the rewards of reading Mr. Bengtsson's gorgeous romance is the sly humor that is sprinkled through it.” -Orville Prescott, The New York Times

Bengtsson “keeps his readers eager for the next chapter. He has a sharp eye for the picturesque and the comic in daily living, and though his style is sophisticated he often writes with a kind of festive abandon.” -Hudson StrodeThe New York Herald Tribune

“This is a lusty man's book that women, too, will enjoy.” -Margaret Widdemer, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The Long Shipshas many virtues of the true story-teller's art…Under the merriment and the fighting there is a great deal of scholarship as sound as it is imperceptible. Reading this marvelously good-humored ale-broth of a book, you say: this is how it must have been to be a Viking chief a thousand years ago. And not such a bad life at that.” -Burke Wilkinson,The New York ...
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ISBN-10: 9997404483
ISBN-13: 978-9997404480
Author: Frans G. Bengtsson
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

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