OK, Parcel Postie knocked politely on the door and gave it to me.
But once inside the house, the book fought its way out of the envelope and demanded, at the point of a Roman-type sword, I read it.
Who am I to argue with a book as tough as that?
Buy yours at The Book Depository.
Look what Postie (now with a slipped disc) just delivered.
Why! It’s my signed copy of Robert Fabbri‘s latest (number six) if I’m not very much mistaken, in his ‘best selling Vespasian series’. Just arrived from the very wonderful Goldsboro books and packed in enough bubble wrap that even a youthful Vespasian would have trouble fighting his way out of.
You should check out Goldsboro’s new website. It’s had the most amazing, buyer-friendly redesign you ever did see. Now it’s even easier you get all your signed book cravings sated.
Just don’t tell the wife, eh?
Viking America The Norse Crossings and their Legacy by Robert Enterline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s only a short book, but that’s because there isn’t very much information about the Norse exploration of North America. There are some mentions in the Icelandic Sagas and, of course, there is a Viking settlements (or way-station) that has been discovered in northern Canada, at L’Anse aux Meadows, but very little else. Or is there?
From extensive work pouring over old maps, old texts and old legends, Robert Enterline worked out an interesting new theory, presented here in this book.
“First, that Leif Eiriksson’s successors in Greenland eventually vacated that land and spread throughout North America, as far as Alaska, meanwhile sending to Europe geographical information that sparked Columbus’ voyage. Second, that Leif Eiriksson’s North American “Vinland” of A.D. 1000 was not a land of grapes on the temperate eastern seaboard but a land of pastures in nearly arctic Canada.”
He does point out that his ideas that Norse exploration in America was a lot more extensive and long-lasting than the physical evidence so far might suggest, may well go against conventional thinking. “Such an idea is completely at variance with all hitherto accepted theories, which looked upon Leif’s contact with America as an isolated incident having no historical consequences.” Those theories also include the Greenland colony, from which the Norse Vinland explorers set out, died out somewhere around (if I read it right, 1400, give or take. His explanation, whie not necessarily ruling out the existing ideas, is different, logical and very interesting, leading as it does, to the first part of his theory.
The book also concentrates on Columbus and his voyage to rediscover the New World, as that tells us much about what he knew before he set out and where he knew it from. Where he got his idea that land was where he said it was, the book suggests, is those Norse explorations in northern America. It is perhaps worth saying here too, that you shouldn’t think ‘Vikings’ and have a picture from the story books (or the tv programme) in your mind. You should learn to call them ’Norse.’ And, when you see ‘America’ try not to think ‘USA’ but northern, up to the Arctic circle, Canada. In fact, attempting to remove preconceptions, is perhaps what the book tries to do. Saying we need to look at the evidence again, re-interpret, where it can be re-interpreted.
It is a little difficult sometimes, as he seems to have two competing ideas on what Columbus’ intentions (of finding) were and how he knew what he’d find and where. One is, I think, that Columbus knew there was land exactly where he found it. We think, or have built the legend that he was looking for Asia, but that knowledge of both the roundness and the size of the earth was sufficient at the time, to show that by sailing westward, with the supplies he had, there was no way he could have reached eastern Asia. Therefore, he must have known that there was something else where his supplies would run out and he only had that amount of supplies, because he knew something was there. And he knew that, thanks to the Norse explorations. “Detailed analysis of pre-Columbian maps, as well as other geographical ideas that were in the air just before the Columbian discovery of America, suggests strongly that such shadowy, frequently misunderstood information did exist, and was based on the dispersal of the Norse settlements in Greenland into America.”
The other idea is that the information coming back to Europe from the Norse explorations, was that what they had found, was the east coast of Asia. Though that that was never anything the Norse themselves claimed. This, if I read it right, would seem to be confirmed by Enterline’s stating that Columbus thought the world was actually pear shaped. The Norse themselves, thought they had discovered a new land, outside the (known) world and that if you travelled south along the coast of it long enough, you would come to Africa.
The book was published in 1972, and so I think while there is mention of the discoveries at L’Anse aux Meadows in the 1960’s, it seems like it was still ‘Breaking News.’ So, he doesn’t know about the nuts and the Jasper found at the site, which would seem, in essence, to compliment at the very least, his proposition.
It’s an analytic study of the actual evidence and his reasons for his theory, using both probability and possibility to construct some very convincing and intreguing arguments. So it doesnt read like a Giles Kristian or a Robert Low. It read to me, like a book trying to present a new theory, knowing there was going to be resistance from the established Archaeological and Historical community, but that Historical romantics with perhaps more open minds *raises hand* would appreciate the theory being presented. So, the tone is one in the middle of dry factual study and more appealing easy reading for Historical Fiction aficionados. You’re not going to race through it, not being able to put it down, but give it a go and see what you think. If you know something of the background, you’ll be intrigued, if you know nothing, it might just set you off on further explorations of your own.
I’m giving it 5 stars because it is so darned interesting and is a positive, up-beat alternative to Erik Wahlgren’s ‘Im right, you’re wrong’ ‘The Vikings and America.’
Click on the book cover at the top and you’ll go to a search page for the title on Abe Books. That’s where I got my copy.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Angus Donald’s ‘Outlaw Chronicles’ books have all been great reads. Well-written, exciting, action-packed and exactly what I want from my Historical Fiction.
There is a problem, however. They’re NOT about Robin Hood. Not even half about Robin Hood. Robin Hood is in the books, but in the background. We don’t follow him, we follow Alan. It’s Alan’s thought’s we are party too, not Robin’s. And Robin would probably have been the more interesting character, even going by the walk-on parts he has had. It is Robin’s thoughts and (perhaps) inner turmoils that I think would have been more interesting. Not just to me, but to your ordinary book-buying reader. If you’re going to sell it as a re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend, you really should feature Robin Hood a bit more. He has got a life away from Alan, of that there is little doubt, it’s just that we learn precious little about it. Obviously that is because it enables Angus’ Robin to move, unseen behind the scenes and pop up just when he is (or isn’t, dependant on what sort of scrape Alan has got himself in to) wanted. So, I ask some people what they think of when they think of Robin Hood. As I live in Denmark, those people are Danes. Even less knowledge of Robin Hood of legend, or with an outsider’s, objective view, you take your pick. Robin Hood? “Something about a forest in England and taking from the rich, giving to the poor” (I’m translating here) was the general consensus here at work the other day. One of the nurses who had lived over in England, could remember him having lived in Nottingham. “France?” “Eh?”
Angus promised much with the first book Outlaw and Nelson DeMille was right with his quote on the cover of the paperback version I have here: “Angus Donald has made everyone’s favourite outlaw a lot more interesting…” He was, in Outlaw. He isn’t, in the majority of the books after that. He can’t be, he isn’t in them enough. What Angus created in Outlaw I thought, was a really different, reconstructed, Green Man Robin. Caustic, earthy, as in of the earth, harsh though fair (of course) and interesting. He is a hero for people who needed one. A direct descendant of the King Arthur tales, a pre-Saxon hero, a summation of hopes, and pagan folk legends made flesh. Now, six books in, he’s swearing his allegiance to the King – by his faith in God, for goodness’ sake. It was a great start. But I would venture that many a reader has rushed through Outlaw, then bought book two Holy Warrior and thought “Hang on, this is supposed to be about Robin Hood! And he isn’t in it!” Well, he is, but more in name, than deed. And Alan and Robin aren’t in Sherwood either, not even in England much after Outlaw. Maybe Angus worked on the ‘you can take the boy out of Sherwood, but you can’t take Sherwood out of the boy’ principle. On that level, it would have worked a treat, kind of. If it had have been the two (or three or four, as it was at that point) outlaws taking their Sherwood nous to fight in the Holy Land – that would have been an interesting project to have explored. But by the time they embark, they are no longer outlaws, no longer forest-dwellers, but are gentry, Knights, with lands, castles, retainers and are on first name terms with Kings. And French in all but name. And remember, Robin Hood was a hero to the Saxons, fighting the Norman French. In Angus’ version, after Outlaw he is Norman French. They both speak fluent French, Alan is French, just with a name change and their King, Richard I, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Coeur de Lion, was French. It is estimated Richard spent as little as six months, in total, in England. Book three, King’s Man is also set in Europe, or France. Book four, Warlord pretty much all France, a brief dalliance in England, but nothing to get worked up about. Five, Grail Knight France again. Six’s The Iron Castle is ‘Chateau Gaillard’ – so you tell me where that is set. The King’s Assassin, book seven, will continue in much the same vein, it seems: “As rebellion brews across the country and Robin Hood and his men are dragged into the war against the French in Flanders…” Not Sherwood, where even Danes know Robin Hood lives. But Flanders where…no one ever thinks Robin Hood has been, let alone lived. That’s the problem that has developed for me and I’ll wager for a lot of casual readers, it isn’t about Robin of Sherwood. It’s not about Robin and there’s very, very little set in Sherwood.
Then, the ’friendship’ between Alan and Robin is largely one-way a lot of the time and in the most of the books, very little is returned. On either side. Often, though Alan professes his love for his Lord and ‘old friend’, it’s hard to see why he should feel that way. Clearly, we are to feel that the love that was generated in Outlaw sees Alan through the subsequent books. To be honest, were I Alan, I’d have told Robin to piss off a long time ago. Robin takes him away from where he wants to be, puts him in danger at every turn, talks to him like he is an errant, ignorant child and generally doesn’t do anything much – apart from lending him money – to deserve Alan’s professed devotion. Alan too, isn’t the outlaw band member. He’s mostly French (though in some of the books I’ve listened to on Audible, he’s had a strong Yorkshire accent) and thanks to Robin and King Richard, he’s a land-owning Knight and Lord. So, if you read what he says and think ‘English,’ think again. It is perhaps, or would have been, historically accurate, but it’s not what one thinks when one wants to hear in tales of Robin Hood. OK, maybe Angus thought that Robin and friends, in Sherwood, fighting the Sheriff, stealing/rich, giving/poor, was too limiting and that all that could be said, had been written. But I beg to differ. And that is partly based on the fantastic Robin (and Alan) he created in Outlaw and partly based on delivering on the ‘Meet the Godfather of Sherwood Forest’ tag-line of the first book.
By taking the two friends out of England, I’m afraid Angus has ‘ordinarified’ them. Alan is just another, often down-at-heel, wannabe Knight and Robin is a pretty ordinary schemer, charlatan, liar, cheat and Lord. Not even a rogue, loveable or otherwise. He has a lot of connections that pop up here and there, but his actual dealing with those connections, we don’t see. He does want to get back to England, back to his home, with his wife Mary-Ann (you see what he’s done there?) and live happily ever after, but…that home is in Yorkshire and his wife lives with their sons in France, has done for several books now and, if it were possible, seems to have even fewer links with England, than Robin.
However, (it’s not all bad) take the book(s) on face value, and you have a really excellent, action-packed, riveting read. Each story is superbly well-planned and executed, contains all the highs and lows you’re looking for in your fighting historical fiction and, in my humble opinion, contains some of the most poignant, thoughtful, though-provoking writing on friendship, longing, regret and hope, it has ever been my pleasure to come across. The Alan that we meet at the start and finish (and sometimes in between) of the books, is a magnificent creation and should have a book or two of his own. No doubts about it. The Iron Castle doesn’t disappoint either (unless you’re looking for Robin, in Sherwood, as above). It begins in 1203, at the end of the time of England’s possession of the territories in France that became the English King’s after The Norman Conquest (there is an absolutely superb Historical Note at the end that you really should stay on for. Angus could easily write (a) wonderful Non-Fiction history book(s) in the future). The majority of the action, takes place in and around the siege of the Iron Castle of Chateau Galliard as Alan and Robin are there to help save the castle from being captured by the French and thereby help King John save Normandy (Interestingly, only King John is the same as the character we know from the Robin Hood books and films). It is a tense struggle, full of incident and really well and effectively written for the action taking place in relatively confined spaces. It is also book looking at the concept of a man’s honour and the dependancy on it to the extent that someone hides behind their honour to cover their own shortcomings or wrong-doings. Robin might say “A man’s honour is the most important of his possessions” but Alan (standing in for us) experiences it in quite a different, more realistic way. Buy this book, enjoy it for what it is. Just don’t go thinking it’s about the Robin Hood you’re thinking of.