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River Kings Reviews

River Kings by Cat Jarman

River Kings

A New History of Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads

Cat Jarman

4.67 out of 5

3 reviews

Category: Non-fiction, History
Imprint: William Collins
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 18 Feb 2021
ISBN: 9780008353070

'Astonishing and compelling' Bernard Cornwell 'A thrilling read ... Illuminates Viking culture in an utterly intriguing new light' Charles Spencer 'Extraordinarily imaginative ... You'll never see the Viking Age in the same way again' Michael Wood

4 stars out of 5
25 Mar 2021

"River Kings is a rich and revelatory portrayal of this restless and extraordinary people"

Jarman is resistant to pressure to re-cast the Vikings as more diverse than they really were. New DNA evidence shows they were pretty homogeneous, even ‘stereotypical . . . tall, strong, blond-haired and blue-eyed’. Interpreting the presence of Arab coinage in Viking graves as evidence of a multicultural Dark Age Scandinavia, she says, would be like interpreting the large number of IKEA stores that have sprung up across Britain in recent years as evidence that ‘sometime in the late 20th century a significant number of Swedes had colonised Britain’. As for the fantasy of muscly warrior swordswomen, again, it’s doubtful. Viking Age women have been found buried with swords, but also with bowls and spindles.

Reviews

5 stars out of 5
Gerard DeGroot
25 Feb 2021

"...like a classical symphony, perfectly composed and exquisitely performed"

River Kings is like a classical symphony, perfectly composed and exquisitely performed. Tiny trills of detail give way to pounding drums of drama. Fur-clad Volga boatmen carry us relentlessly towards the exotic. Along the way, Jarman takes a sledgehammer to fantasies of ethnic purity. In Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea that was like a 9th-century Felixstowe, less than 50 per cent of human remains unearthed are local. Expeditions became, by chance and circumstance, “a polyethnic melting pot of groups”. And when people mix, they often, as we know, swap sickness. A skeleton found in Oxford shows signs of smallpox; DNA analysis then reveals a half-brother buried in Denmark with similar symptoms. The chain of contagion probably originated somewhere along the Silk Road.

5 stars out of 5
William Dalrymple
19 Feb 2021

"will cast a spell on any reader who enjoys their history well-written and clearly argued"

Jarman, a Scandinavian archaeologist based in Britain who did her PhD on the Repton charnel, is the perfect person to resolve this conundrum, and she does so with great skill, clarity and narrative drive. For Jarman likes her Vikings violent, and her tale — replete with witches, human sacrifice, Greek fire and funeral orgies — is at least as lively as any Netflix Viking romp, and a great deal more intellectually satisfying. It helps that she has an enviable gift for turning dry archaeological data into thrilling human stories...