There’s been a notable upsurge in Viking-related releases across all forms of media in recent years, as I’ve previously discussed, specifically regarding retellings of the myths and novels inspired by the sagas. The broader world of original fiction is no exception to that. But even with the significant increase of interest in the subject matter, not all worthy manuscripts are fated to be published by one of the major publishers.
Fiction publishing is a hugely competitive business, and for a book to be picked up (let alone properly backed) by a large publishing house is real rarity that depends on a wild mix of factors ranging from the imprecise science of assessing salability, the prevailing trends in the literary world, the existing prominence/influence of the author, the intrinsic biases of literary agents and acquiring editors, and—as was such a big deal among the actual Vikings themselves—blind luck.
Of course, lack of talent and/or quality of writing is also a factor. But many fiction books that don’t make the big publishers’ cut don’t lack on that account, and make their way to the market via a small press or self-publishing venture. This list highlights some exemplary titles from that often overlooked branch of the publishing world. These are all well-crafted, highly entertaining books, all directly influenced by the whole Norse theme, but that weren’t released by one of the Big Five publishers (including their imprints) or any of the other large publishers (such as Bloomsbury) or technically independent, medium-range sized publishers with a deep distribution reach (such as Solaris and Canelo). These are indie titles in the truest sense of the word.
Burden to Bear by Gregory Amato (Sed Ferro Press)
The first in a new historical fantasy trilogy, Gregory Amato’s Burden to Bear offers a strong, stylistic nod to the popular, quest-based fantasy novels of the 20th century. Full of adventure and a solid dash of humor, the novel follows the exploits of the wise-cracking and aspiring-poet protagonist, Ansgar, as he joins a band of roving warriors on their journey to Denmark. With strong allusions to Beowulf, The Saga of Hrolf Kraki, and Arrow Odd’s Saga, and featuring exciting encounters with mythical creatures like the World Serpent, Burden to Bear is a ton of action-packed fun.
The Saga of Ádís Rauðfeldr by Siobhan Clark (Vraeyda Literary)
A charming tale, with some darker moments, rooted in Scandinavia’s ancient past, Siobhan Clark’s The Saga of Ádís Rauðfeldr delves into the overlap of Norse and Sámi folklore. The novel focuses on the title character, Ádís, as she flees a dangerous existence and seeks solace in the woods, far away from civilization, where a mysterious, supernatural presence lurks. Spanning multiple generations—in true saga fashion—the strands of folkloric influence are many and intertwined and resolved very nicely by the book’s end.
The Sagas and Shit by Grayson del Faro (Forlagið)
Grayson del Faro’s The Sagas and Shit is a little different from the other titles on this list because it’s not a novel but rather a collections of short stories. Each story is an abbreviated version of a genuine Icelandic saga or Norse myth, told in a very modern-day, slangy, humorous sort of way (something that I, for one, truly appreciate). In addition to the great comedic value found in the text itself, the book is also accompanied by many fun and quirky illustrations. The Sagas and Shit is an English-language book published by a well-established Icelandic publisher, which makes it quite difficult to find outside of its home country and fits the bill of “indie” in the context of the English-speaking world.
The Gatewatch by Josh Gillingham (Crowsnest Books)
Steeped in Scandinavian folklore and Norse culture, with strong nods to J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, Josh Gillingham’s The Gatewatch is the first volume in The Saga of Torin Ten-Trees and the only book on this list set in an invented, fantasy world. It follows the adventures of a trio of aspiring troll-hunters—the titular character, Torin, and his friends, Grimsa and Bryn—as they set off to join the band of warriors tasked with defending the Realm of Noros from trolls. This is the book to read if you’re in the mood for something akin to The Hobbit in terms of atmosphere and feeling but with its own fresh and original story and characters.
God’s Hammer by Eric Schumacher (Next Chapter)
Eric Schumacher’s God’s Hammer is the only purely historical fiction novel on this list. The book kicks off Schumacher’s Hakon’s Saga trilogy, which recounts the rise of King Hakon in Norway and his quest for the throne against his brother, Erik Bloodaxe. Rooted in the stories of Heimskringla and Viking Age history, God’s Hammer vividly portrays its time and place—10th century England and Norway—and provides a rousing tale of action and adventure that brings to life one of the most iconic of medieval Norwegian kings.
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The Impudent Edda
Rowdy Geirsson is the author of The Scandinavian Aggressors and translator of The Impudent Edda, which published on November 22, 2023. His writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Metal Sucks, Scandinavian Review, the Sons of Norway’s Viking Magazine, and is forthcoming in Medieval World: Culture and Conflict. He can be found skulking in the abyss at Twitter (@RGeirsson), Instagram (@rowdygeirsson), and Bluesky (@rgeirsson).