||Dec 15, 2006
FINALIST ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards - What happened to the Vikings after the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066? Where did they go?
Legend of the Last Vikings is one possibility.........
Legend of the Last Vikings
Legend of the Last Vikings
Legend of the Last Vikings
Book of the Year Awards
As the Viking age is brought to an end in 1066 with ignominious defeat at the battle of Stamford Bridge, a rag-tag group of Vikings conclude the quiet life is not for them and they decide to go-a-Viking one last time.
They retrace a journey of their youth across the European Steppe and down the mighty Dniepr river to Byzantium. However a chance discovery in a Kiev library leads them to venture even further afield - to Astrakhan, across the Caspian sea, up the mighty Oxus river, through Parthia and Bactria and along the ancient Silk Route into Asia and Tian Xia (China).
Engaged in a battle not of their choosing, they inflict fatalities on the sinister and evil Black Scorpions who want to exact their revenge. Pursued, they flee by night across the Roof of the World and meet the remnants of the "lost" European tribe of Asia, the Hepthalites, who offer them protection in their city, hidden in the Tien Shan - the Celestial Mountains. A place where romance is kindled and love unexpectedly blossoms.
During their winter sojourn in the Hidden City they gather more clues, and in the spring continue with their quest, on into the Taklamakan desert. The desert so called by locals because those who venture in seldom venture out. More danger and peril lies in wait for this rag-tag Viking crew as they travel along the Silk Route, the world's first super-highway.
At the eastern end of their journey they meet the Lang Ren. The Wolf people of Lou Lan. Outcasts thieves and criminals living in an abandoned city in the desert. A city without water. A city about to die. A city in which the final clue to their quest is uncovered.
What fate awaits this rejected element of Asian society? Can this motley crew intercede on their behalf?
A beautifully bound 511 page hardback with historical companion, place name lexicon and maps available at www.VikingLegend.com
A few days later we entered the Gulf of Taganrog and we saw the coast of ancient Thanais on the north shore of the Sea of Azov, and were soon approaching Rostov. The artfully decorated ceramics from Rostov could now be found as far away as Byzantium, Kyiv, Novgorod and even in the Nordic kingdoms.
Rostov was given to Yaroslav by his father Vladimir Svjatoslavovich in 988AD, after conquering the area in 965AD. Yaroslav ruled it until 1010AD. True to form, he even founded a new town in the north, Yaroslavl. But Yaroslav didn’t plant towns for nothing, there had to be gain in it for him. His reasoning was that Yaroslavl would be the buffer for Rostov against any Bulgar attacks from the upper Volga.
We stayed the night in Rostov, preparing for our push up the Don to the fortress at Sarkel. The locals informed us that it was about 200 mil, or about four days’ journey. However I knew it would be more like four days’ hard rowing against the Don’s current. I also knew that I couldn’t expect to raise the sail as the prevailing wind was from the north east, the direction in which we were heading. So four days’ hard slog it would be.
I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the fortress city of Sarkel in just three days. The Don was wide and relatively slow flowing, which made our going easier and quicker, and the crews performed magnificently. I relished my turn on the oars. There is nothing like a group of men singing a stirring song and working in time. We seemed to fly over the water.
On day three an undeclared race developed. After pulling out from our overnight camp we were at first in the lead. Then Haldor’s knarr pulled even and then ahead of us, and then our crew responded, and so it went on. I should have stopped it in order to save the men. But a little competition every now and then, even between crews, helps keep a sharp edge.
Eventually we were going so fast that the knarrs began planing, their bows rising and the wake now a white froth and not the normal gurgle. At each change of the lead the singing got louder. Haldor and his crew took the bait and the race was on. We came racing around a bend and upon seeing Sarkel for the first time on the north bank, I cried out to Haldor, “Last one to the first quay buys the ales!”
“You’re on,” he shouted back over the now roaring crews.
We were so absorbed in our race that we didn’t notice the armed guard rushing out of the fortress and down to the docks. Haldor’s crew pipped us by a hair’s breadth.
Thinking we had a guard of honour I ordered oars up and, using our speed, our helmsmen expertly swung the boats in parallel to the shore, both beaching at the same time. It was a totally unrehearsed manoeuvre, but was executed with a flourish that only expert seamen could muster.
The speed of our approach and our singing had been taken for an attack and the guard rushed out. When it was obvious that all it was was two Viking knarrs having a race, there were the typical anonymous cynical comments from within the ranks
“Kutarev’s got it wrong again.”
“Yeah. It’s always ‘Hurry up and wait’ with him.”
As the guard captain approached the comments died down.
“You, Viking!” he boomed, pointing at me. “What the bloody hell did you think you were doing?”
“Having a race. What else did it look like to you, Captain….?” I left the question hanging. Not receiving an answer, I turned and started tying up the boat.
“Look at me when I speak to you,” he screamed at me.
Oh no. One of those, I thought to myself. I had come across his sort before. He was a bully not a leader. I turned to him and said, “But you were not speaking. Just standing there with your hands on your hips…”
The men were still in the boats with the oars at attention. Ignoring the flustered Captain, I turned back to the men and ordered them, “At ease, disembark.”
“NOT BEFORE I SAY SO!” he screamed.
Turning again, I calmly said, “Oh. And why is that?”
“DON’T patronise me!” he shouted.
“And why not?” I calmly asked him, knowing he would become even more flustered.
“Because I SAY SO.”
“Uh-huh. And just WHO are you?” I asked.
He began spluttering, his face as scarlet as an emperor’s cloak. His men were enjoying this, so were my men, and so were Haldor and Ibn, and so was I.
I was about to answer when a voice boomed out over the assembled troops, “His name is Ulf Uspakson. That is Lord Uspakson to you, Kutarev. And with him is Haldor Snorresson. And that is also Lord Snorresson to you, Kutarev. I served under these men when Yaroslav the Wise, God rest his soul, tamed the Pechenegs. I also served under him when we were Byzantium’s feared Varangian Horde, serving under Harald Hadraada. We ruled the Mediterranean from Jerusalem to the Pillars of Hercules.”
The “voice” sat astride a magnificent white gelding and belonged to Commander Barjik Chernetsov, who had served under me with great distinction. It was no surprise to me that he was now the commander of Izaislav’s Eastern army.
Excellent treatment of an Old Subject
Quick, what come to mind when you see the word Viking - hairy men leaping from long boats, sacking monasteries and pillaging English towns? You might even remember the 1958 Kirk Douglas/Tony Curtis movie, The Vikings, which put those images indelibly in my memory.
Those are not John Halsted's Vikings but that's not to say that the story is less entertaining. To the contrary, it has battles, thrilling escapes, hidden cities, likable characters, wonderful descriptions of distant lands, history woven into the narrative, and romance. You can't ask for more than that.
Before discussing the story, let's look at the book itself. I unwrapped it at at the mailbox and stopped in my tracks to look it over. It wasn't what I expected. It is 7 inches high (18 centimeters if you are a cataloger or not from the U.S.) by four and a quarter inches wide, much smaller than the typical hardcover. It may seem an odd thing to remark on, but there is a satisfying heft to the book and it is easy to carry around, fitting nicely in a pocket in my windbreaker. The dust jacket is very attractive with a Viking helmet superimposed on a relief map of the area traveled by the characters. The drawing of the helmet (no horns, thank you very much) is very well executed. The paper is smooth and heavier than typical. It took me a while to realize what is was about the paper that gave me pause. More than fifty years ago I received (and still have) a British edition of The Jungle Book and the pages have the same feel. I got a feeling of nostalgia just holding this book. A segment of the route map is faintly printed on the top corner of each page. As someone who loves the printed book, I appreciate the care and detail that went into producing Legend of the Last Vikings.
Legend of the Last Vikings: Taklamakan is set at the end of the Viking period after King Harald Hardrada of Norway was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 in an attempt to conquer England. The survivors were allowed to leave England after promising never to attack England again. Ulf Uspakson, adviser to Harald, decides to go A-Viking one last time and is joined by a select group of comrades. Their goal is to find the resting place of the Swedish Viking Ingvar Vittfarne who left to explore to the west, around the Caspian Sea and into Asia.
They find clues to their quest in the library of Kyiv (Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine) where their research is aided by an Arab prince and scholar, Ibn Rashid al-Arslan who has knowledge of the lands and peoples where they need to travel. They begin their journey in earnest at Kiev, heading south to the Black Sea then west into the Caspian Sea. Ibn joins them in the expedition, tutoring them in Arabic, and explaining the customs of the people they will encounter. They travel further west, along the Silk Route, and eventually into the Taklamakan Desert in present day China. Along the way they attract the attention of the Black Scorpions, a quasi-religious organization of pirates, assassins, and thugs who dog our heroes' steps through most of the book and want them destroyed.
As they travel from city to city, they make new friends, suffer betrayal, adding to their knowledge of Ingvar Vittfarne, find love, and escape some pretty tight situations.
Legend... is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Why do I recommend it? Well, one obvious reason is that it has Vikings and Vikings are always cool. We get a fuller picture of the Vikings from this book. While we think of them mainly as warriors, they were also traders with extensive networks in Russia, the Mediterranean, and Middle East. In fact, the Vikings were mainly traders. Vikings also made up the Varangian Hoarde (or Guard), the bodyguard of the Byzantine emperor. Harald Harrada is one of the most well known Norsemen to serve in the Varangian Guard.
Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed is the history, culture, and physical descriptions of the lands it contains. Halsted did a remarkable amount of research and works it into the story without having it read like a textbook. I learned quite a bit and, more than once, went to Wikipedia to find out more; the Varangian Guard was new to me.
Then there are the characters. Ulf, the warrior scholar, fluent in many languages including Latin and Greek, is particularly interesting but you can't help but imagine sitting around a tavern table with the rough but intelligent and good humored men and listening to their stories. There are strong women characters and it is fun to see Ulf meet his match in the Hephthalite/Greek woman Lydia Iskander
I think Legend of the Last Vikings would be a fun book to read with a young person. Besides being a good adventure story, there is enough historical background to last a school year. There is an appendix that includes maps; place names, geographic features, units of measurement with old and current equivalencies; and major characters, places, and events. Personally, if Halsted took his research and turned it into an activity book I would purchase it. There is one explicit sex scene that a parent would want to skip over depending on the age of the child.
There is a nice web site supporting this book: http://www.vikinglegend.com/
This is a wonderful blend of fact and fiction, putting flesh on the dry bones of history, demonstrating the insatiable restless human desire for discovery, adventure and the pursuit of knowledge.
Be drawn into a classic sojourn which spans many religions and beliefs and incorporates the ingredients of friendship, dignity, honour, love, betrayal and greed; against the backdrop of a hostile environment which gives no quarter - just what one expects from a Viking.
An intellectual read, leaving the door open with a promise of more to come Riveting stuff!
History and Adventure Combined
EXCELLENT! The book tells a story that captures the reader on several levels. What appears to be an historical novel becomes an adventure set in a background of rich experiences and wide diversity. This adventure, alongside the stories of the different settlements and religions, and that of a moving love story, means that this book provides a compelling and exciting journey of discovery for both the characters in the book and the reader themselves.
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