Adding to Edwin's recommendation: Ivory Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown, 230 pgs. Available in Hardcover and Kindle. Her last book, Song of the Vikings, was a (London) Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year 2012, so you know she can write well.
The subjects are the famous chess pieces known as the Lewis Chessmen found at Uist, the Isle of Lewis, Hebrides, Scotland (for those of you who don’t know the area). The chess pieces are probably the most famous chess pieces, having been used as the models for various chess interpretations, such as in the Harry Potter movies, and they are listed as number 61 in BBC Radio 4’s History of the World in 100 Objects (also excellent). Brown’s somewhat conversational style hides the fact that she is reviewing the provenance of these remarkable pieces of carved walrus ivory in careful detail. Along the way, we are introduced to the players in the later Viking period (1000 AD-1300), some with great names like King Eirik Blood-Axe, the original Valdemar King of Denmark, King Magnus Bare-legs (who like the Scots he conquered so much he decided to wear kilts), and Earl Erling Skew-neck. She shows us how Greenland, Iceland, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, Norway, Sweden and Denmark had vibrant trade routes, in many ways an advanced culture. She limns the progress of Christianity as it replaces the ancient Norse bedrock. And she brings to life Margaret the Adroit of Iceland, master ivory craftswoman working for Bishop Pall. Nearly every page has something interesting or surprising on it, and while the Viking chieftains and kings and bishops can be dizzying, they never overwhelm. Brown tells us early that “more medieval literature exists in Icelandic than in any other European language except Latin—and many of the Sagas have not been translated. Brown, however, reads Icelandic, so her sources for all the Nordic world including its incursions in France and England, are extensive. For me this is a five star book—for those with no interest in such things, take off a half star.
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