Monday, July 23, 2007

The Last Viking

I spent part of the weekend wandering the streets of Constantinople. (Not Istanbul.) As some of you may recall from earlier posts, I've recently been studying the Byzantine Empire. This came to pass because of a chance discovery that Vikings, or more correctly, Norsemen, had served as bodyguards to the emperors in Constantinople during the 10th and 11th centuries. I've been thinking of writing some fiction set in that time, so I've continued to brush up on my knowledge.
Thing is, though I've now consumed mass quantities of reference books, I'd been hoping to find some fiction set in the Byzantine Empire in the proper time period and not having much luck. I tried Stephen Lawhead's book, Byzantium, but couldn't get past the first few chapters. Ditto with a mystery set in Constantinople in roughly the right era.
This weekend though, I hit pay dirt. Quite by accident I discovered that no less a science fiction legend than Poul Anderson had written a three volume historical series about Harald the Ruthless, one of the most famous of the Viking kings. From some of my other reading, I knew that Harald had spent several years in Constantinople, serving in the Varangian Guard, the elite bodyguards to the emperor. The Golden Horn, which is the first volume in Anderson's 'Last Viking' trilogy, covers Harald's time in Byzantium. My copy arrived in the mail this week.
This is a really fun book, filled with all the things one could want from a historical novel. Anderson manages to bring the time and place to life. It was exactly what I needed to crystallize the era. Sometimes a good piece of fiction can do that. Combined with all my research, The Golden Horn has helped to fix 11th century Constantinople in my mind. And of course, it's a rollicking good adventure yarn too, full of battles, journeys, romance, and the ring of swords on shield and helm.
Harald left Constantinople a few years before my story idea would take place. He returned to his homeland and became the king of Norway. Oddly enough, he was killed in a minor battle in England in 1066, just a few weeks before the more famous history changing events of that year would occur.

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