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Beyond the Northlands by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough. Book Review

November 28, 2016


In reading this book it is easy to see the heritage of sweeping fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones. The influence Norse-Icelandic Sagas have had on modern fantasy writing is far reaching, because these are stories so rich in imagery, myth and the incredible deeds of the Viking people, writers will never want for material or inspiration. Within it you will find commentaries on entrepreneurs, business empires, jealousy, skulduggery, conniving, lust, desire, fantastic voyages and, of course weird and wonderful mythical creatures. The text skillfully draws out the highlights of the Sagas in all their gore and, at times, enormous humour.

Although a non-fiction book, Beyond the Northlands is a ‘must-buy’ for anyone writing fantasy or those who are interested in the Vikings and their stories, because it not only methodically works through potential sources, but also provides the context for the Sagas.

The author’s field trips to ancient Viking sites are woven brilliantly into the commentary on the different Sagas, and are illustrated with a generous helping of colour photographs worthy of an experienced photojournalist.

This is a book as absorbing as any fantasy novel, because this is not a dry academic text, but one in which the Viking world, in reality and myth, is brought to life so you can feel the wind on your face and the smells of the ancient hearths crackling on cold winter nights.

The canvas on which Dr Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough (a lecturer in Medieval History at Durham University) paints this colourful world is every bit as large as the most imaginative fantasy novel, transporting the reader from the frozen expanses of Greenland to the exotic ancient world of Byzantium.

It is a book to keep coming back to not only in its own right as an absorbing read, but also as a stepping stone with which to explore the vibrant world of the Vikings, and provide endless inspiration for modern day Sagas.

Beyond the Northlands is courtesy of Oxford University Press via NetGalley

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