12 riveting books about Vikings worth exploring

12 riveting books about Vikings worth exploring

In Reading Lists by Emma Contreras

12 riveting books about Vikings worth exploring

Whether or not you realize it, the influence of the Viking Age is evident everywhere in modern society, beyond the enduring popularity of Norse mythology. 

From NFL team names, to the establishment of the longest-running parliament in Iceland (the Althing), to the origin of the word Bluetooth (shout-out to King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, the first Christian king of Denmark), it might be a surprise that Vikings, a people known for their barbaric invasions, have left such a profound mark on today’s world. 

Given all that, Viking lore being woven into countless works of fantasy, historical fiction, and romance novels makes a lot of sense. Dive into this fascinating society that traded and raided in equal measure with this list of the best Vikings books to read right now.

If you want a historically accurate nonfiction overview, start with Neil Price’s Children of Ash and Elm. Or, if you want a fiction book about badass Vikings doing badass Viking things, check out The Last Kingdom, which inspired the eponymous hit TV series.

1. The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson

This novel has the requisite pillaging, plundering, duels to the death, and wars on both sea and land expected of a Viking book, but there’s also a surprising number of laugh-out-loud moments. 

A swift-moving plot follows the adventures of Orm Tostesson (AKA Red), who was enslaved by Viking raiders at a young age but quickly proves his worth and eventually climbs the ranks to chieftain status. With dry humor and meticulous attention to detail, Bengtsson brilliantly captures life in Viking-era Sweden.

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2. Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price

If you ask hardcore Viking nerds, “What’s the best book on the history of the Vikings?”, I’d hazard a guess that Children of Ash and Elm would be a popular pick. While Price’s work of nonfiction certainly doesn’t shy away from discussing the brutal, violent raids the seafaring warriors are known for, it also dives deep into the cultural, sociopolitical, and religious aspects of a people that were far more forward-thinking than many realize. 

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3. River Kings by Cat Jarman

There are Viking stories lurking in every corner of the world and bioarchaeologist Jarman is here to shine a light on them. 

Using cutting-edge forensic analysis techniques, the Viking Age expert pulls together research from ancient dig sites, shipwrecks, and mass graves to provide a fresh perspective on these Scandinavian people. In particular, Jarman reexamines long-held beliefs about Vikings, including the scope of their travels and the roles women played in their society. 

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4. The Sea Wolves by Lars Brownworth 

If you’re more interested in learning about the conquests and raids of famous Vikings like Ivar the Boneless, Vladimir the Great, and Ragnar Lothbrok (seriously, could these names be any more badass?), this is the book for you.

In a gripping work of nonfiction that at times reads more like an action-packed thriller, Brownworth recounts the brutal exploits of the Norse explorers and examines the profound impact this bloody legacy still leaves to this day. 

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5. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell 

If you’re still mourning the end of The Last Kingdom TV show and haven’t yet read the book series it’s based on, it’s time to jump back into the world of Uhtred. The first book in Cornwell’s outstanding series kicks off the epic journey of a Saxon raised by the Danes whose struggle between dueling loyalties eventually gives way to the emergence of a fierce and legendary warrior. 

Full of characters based on real-life historical figures, The Last Kingdom is a must-read Viking tale of revenge, destiny, and fate. 

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6. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is at the top of his storytelling game in this expert retelling of Norse mythology. Making ancient tales feel modern and fresh, the American Gods author adds flavor and flair to classic characters like Thor and Loki. This is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys classic mythology or Viking history. 

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7. The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay transports readers to an elaborate fantasy world heavily inspired by the 8th century Vikings’ raids on England. While a bit darker in tone than many of his other works, The Last Light of the Sun is no less magical a story than readers have come to expect from Kay. 

A clash of cultures, a touch of fae, and allusions to Celtic and Norse mythology draw readers into a mesmerizing and quietly intense novel. 

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8. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie 

The award-winning Half a King follows Yarvi, a prince with a deformed hand who is dethroned by his uncle because of his apparent weakness. Set in a world reminiscent of medieval Scandinavia, readers familiar with Viking lore will recognize the heavy influence of Viking history and mythology. 

With an abundance of death and destruction, dark twists, and shocking revelations, Abercrombie’s start to the Shattered Sea series will grab you by the throat and hang on tight. 

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9. The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone 

Like Jarman, Elphinstone closely examines the oft-overlooked but equally critical roles women played in Viking society. In the case of The Sea Road, Elphinstone reimagines the life of Gudrin, a legendary Icelandic woman who led a remarkable life of exploration and adventure. 

It’s not too often we get to see from a woman’s point of view in historical fiction, especially in the Viking era, which makes this engaging retelling all the more fascinating. 

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10. The Reluctant Viking by Sandra Hill 

What’s your book boyfriend type? Is it a pro sports player? A cinnamon roll bookstore owner? Or maybe it’s a seafaring Norseman who can sack cities and plunder villages like nobody’s business? If you said “Option three, please!”, Hill's Viking I series starter is for you. It checks all the boxes of a steamy Viking romance novel: time travel, a spicy love triangle, and, of course, fierce, sexy Viking warriors. 

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11. The Viking Queen’s Men by Holley Trent

The reader and Contessa, the heroine of this novel, discover the world of the Afótama — peopled by Viking descendants living in New Mexico — at the same time. The only difference is Tess is the Viking Queen, and she’s supposed to serve as a conduit for all her people. 

To do this, however, Tess needs to find her mate to fill in her psychic gaps. As she adjusts to this strange new reality, she winds up in a polyamorous romance.

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12. The Shield-Maiden’s Secret by Wendy Dalrymple 

Dalrymple pens an empowering tale of a young girl determined to forge her own destiny. 

To circumvent societal laws that prevent women from joining the warrior ranks, Katje poses as a man. However, her growing attraction to a fellow warrior put her head and her heart at odds. This is the perfect low steam, Mulan-esque Viking romance for anyone looking for a short and sweet love story. 

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About the Author: Emma Contreras

Emma is an Everand booklist curator and a freelance content marketing writer covering finance, business leadership, and B2B SaaS communications.