Title: The Real Valkyrie
Author: Nancy Marie Brown
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: 31 August 2021
I received an advanced ebook from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.
In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman. Nancy Brown weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine this woman’s life and times, showing that women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.
Nancy Brown uses science to link the Birka Warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and to their great trade route east to Byzantium and beyond. Brown imagines Hervor’s life interesting with larger-than-life but real women, including Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings, the Viking leader known as the Red Girl, and Queen Olga of Kyiv. What Brown reveals in these pages that much of what we have taken as truth about women in the Viking Age is based not on data, but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases.
One of my favorite parts of reading this was that the beginning of each chapter began with a fictionalized account of what Hervor would’ve been doing based on Viking literature and stories. It was able to grab a hold of me before learning about the culture and life of women, men, and society as a whole during this time period.
The way she crafts the story makes a fascinating read, but also is still approachable to those who may not know much about Viking history (this girl here). I was excited to read this and was blown away by how much I learned and how fun it was to read this book. This is definitely an important book not only for historians but for the every day person. We have this preconceived idea (again, largely based on Victorian misconceptions) that women weren’t only regulated to the domestic sphere.