A scholarly narrative of the Vikings in King Alfred’s Britain, from the end of the 700s to the 950s.
The latest book from Adams (In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages, 2016, etc.) is nothing if not informative—at least for students of the period. This will be slow going for those with only a mild curiosity about the subject matter, though consulting the author’s previous book(s) will help. Readers with a reasonable knowledge of the geography and a passing acquaintance with the characters will be most edified yet still challenged. The author is commendably strict on historical accuracy, especially regarding names: “I have tried as far as possible to render spellings in their original language for the sake of authenticity.” Lacking arable land and political stability, the Norse looked to the south for expansion. “As the eighth century draws to a close,” writes Adams, “bands of feral men, playing by a new set of rules and bent on theft, kidnap, arson, torture and enslavement, prey on vulnerable communities.” In Ireland and France, especially, the monasteries and settlements were ripe for the picking. “The economic strengths that made Britain such an attractive target lay in the exploitation…of abundant resources,” writes the author, who also provides a clever map of the Viking travels modeled on the London tube system. He shows the waterways, roads, and Roman forts and their interconnections with existing Roman roads. The author greatly expands our knowledge of raids and the paying of Danegeld, the Viking land tax, and the division of Britain into Wessex/Mercia and the Danelaw; the split was the continental divide of Britain. King Alfred codified laws and controlled the Vikings, but it was his son-in-law, son, daughter, and grandson who finished the job. The text is impeccably researched and augmented with family trees, illustrations, and maps, but this is only for the most devoted fans of Vikings and their history.
Persistent—and academic—readers will gather a wealth of knowledge. General readers may want to steer clear.