River Kings by Cat Jarman

4 out of 5 stars

Most people who have had to do a smattering of history will have come across the Vikings and learnt about their antics. They were renowned sailors, fierce warriors and tyrants who raided and sacked many seaside towns and villages around the coast of the British Isles. The hoards that they left contained all manner of precious items that had come from all over Europe and even as far as India.

One of these precious items was a carnelian bead that came into her temporary possession just over a decade ago. Where this bead came from originally is the question that could not be answered without first asking many more questions about these people. Uncovering some of the answers to these is the subject of this book.

Dr Cat Jarman is very well placed to do this too, she works on the cutting edge of bioarchaeology, examining graves and artefacts and looking at the DNA of the men and women interred over 1000 years ago. Her story will reveal details of some of the people, where they came from, when they died and how they were related to other Vikings. I learnt how a fish-based diet can make remains seem much older than they actually are, that the chance find of runic graffiti in a church showed the presence of Vikings in the most unexpected of places.

There are stories in every place she looks, the mass graves and ship burials tell of a culture that was aggressive and highly developed. Evidence of Vikings moving through the rivers of Europe and dragging their boats overland to reach the middle east where they traded and raided in equal measure.

I really liked this, Jarman has done an excellent job of teasing out the stories from the science. The research is meticulous and she has got the mix of narrative and detail just about right. If you want a history book that makes you think again about the Vikings and the way that they changed the European continent, then this is a really good place to start.

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4 Comments

  1. Liz Dexter

    How funny, I thought, I’ve just bought this seemingly on a whim from the local indie bookshop (the Bookshop on the Green in Bournville, which has a fabulous deep and wide stock in a tiny shop) when I went in there to spend a voucher my friend Gill specifically made me for only that shop. But of course I’d probably subliminally noticed it on your TBR posts or something and it had lodged in my mind. Keeping your review for the foreseeable, until I’ve read it!

    • Paul

      Hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

      • Liz Dexter

        I loved it – so well done, and I didn’t even mind the fictionalised vignettes at the starts of the chapters! I reviewed it yesterday and I was excited to spot her on Digging for Britain the other week.

        • Paul

          Glad you liked it too. I think that we will see a lot more of her in the future

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