The Jarl’s Challenge has been published for a little over a month now and what a month! The sales are WAY higher than I imagined and it makes me SO happy!
I’m an indie author. Like all other indie authors I don’t have a huge marketing budget.
This is why I’ve been so incredibly pleasantly surprised with how well The Jarl’s Challenge has been doing. The book is selling way better than I expected! I mean, are there really that many people out there who like Viking romance?
With a lot of help from my friends
As I said, i don’t have a huge marketing budget. I actually have a zero marketing budget. What I do have is a lot of help from some great friends who spread the word. Thank you so much for helping The Jarl find his readers!
I also have an amazing cover, made by The Cover Fling. I honestly think the cover of The Jarl’s Challenge is responsible for a majority of the sales. After all, who hasn’t been staring into those eyes and fallen completely in love with the Jarl?
The Jarl’s Challenge has also been receiving some really great reviews. The average review is 4.8 (out of 5) stars and here are some of them:
Vikings are generally seen as dirty, bloodthirsty brutes, but is that really the truth? The answer can be found in complaints from contemporaries, in Viking graves and in the modern Scandinavian languages.
Imagine a Viking. What do you see in your inner eye? Do you see a dirty man with wild hair, beard all over his face, and a mean look? The mean look may be true, but the rest is not.
Vikings were actually vain.
they washed at least every Saturday
they obsessively combed their hair and beard and cut them in stylish hairstyles
they often dyed their hair red or blond
they were particular about their clothing
and–surprising to most–they wore eye make-up.
What?! Did Vikings wear make-up?!
[Everyone who learns that Vikings wore make-up]
Yes, Vikings wore make-up.
Also, half of the Vikings were women so that dirty man you’re imagining may as well be a stylish and very clean woman. With a sword, mind you.
Imagine a Viking grave. What do you think a true Viking was buried with?
A sword, you say? Yes, the Viking may have had a sword in the grave. Both men and women have been buried with swords, but far from all Viking graves have had swords in them.
Pottery? Yes, pottery is a good guess. Both men and women were often buried with pottery, but that’s also not the most common thing found in a Viking grave.
The item that has been found in most Viking graves is this: [DRUM ROLL]
Combs are the most common item found in Viking graves. Vikings carried their combs with them at all times and they used them to groom their hair and beard.
We don’t know much about the hair styles Vikings had, but if we look at artefacts and stone carvings we may get a picture of elaborate hair styles–like the ponytail knot below–and pointy beards–seen on the stone further below.
Saturday was washing day
The modern Scandinavian languages also tell a tale of the clean Vikings. Most of our weekdays are named after a Viking god or goddess, but Saturday stands out. We call it “lørdag” and it comes from the old Norse “laugardagr”.
Laugardagr means “pool day” or “bathing day”.
This means that Vikings bathed at least once a week. Maybe not something that impresses a modern person with their indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water, but for their contemporaries, washing once a week was extreme. Check out this complaint:
The Danes, thanks to their habit of combing their hair every day, of bathing every Saturday and regularly changing their clothes, were able to undermine the virtue of married women and even seduce the daughters of nobles to be their mistresses
John of Wallingford about Vikings in 1002
Read a romance with bathing Vikings
I’ve been fascinated by these bathing Vikings since my early teens. I’ve read about bath houses and bathing habits and imagined these men and women getting clean and having fun while washing themselves and each other (hey, let me have that bit of imagination).
My fascination has turned into writing. In my new Viking romance–which is out TODAY–there’s a hot and heavy scene in a bath house. Let me just say that Borghild isn’t amused by Eivind’s antics (but she is left hot and bothered).
A lot of Viking romances out there have this hulking brute on their covers, often with a naked torso and some kind of fur hanging down his back. Completely wrong historically speaking. I mean, why would you walk around with a naked chest and a fur down your back? It doesn’t make any sense.
Unfortunately, this seems to be what readers expect, judging from the available cover models.
Luckily Anna Volkin from The Cover Fling didn’t give up. She wanted to give my book a stunning cover, but also something that felt “right”.
I would say that she delivered! What do you think?
Vikings were kings and queens, Vølve and slaves. Here is a run through of the different classes and professions Vikings had.
Viking romances are often about the top of Viking societies—the kings and jarls. I want to start my journey through the classes at the very bottom: the thralls.
Thralls were slaves, but I’m going to use the word “thrall” because that’s what they were called by the Vikings and also because thralls can’t be compared to modern day slaves. They were everything from prisoners of war and indentured servants to people born into slavery. Some died as slaves—often killed in gruesome ways when they couldn’t work anymore, as Scandinavian names like “Thrall’s Cliff” give witness to—but some thralls could work or buy their freedom or were given their freedom when their owner died.
Some thralls followed their owners into their graves, either voluntarily or forced. There are also accounts of thralls being sacrificed to the gods just like cows and horses. And when winter was rough and there wasn’t food for everyone, the thralls were the first ones cast out to fend for themselves in the freezing cold.
People could be taken as thralls during raids and battles, they could be bought and sold like cattle, and they could even sell themselves and their families into thralldom. Most of the thralls came from whichever area the Vikings had raided or been at war with, which means most thralls came from somewhere in Northern Europe.
Vikings didn’t just bring the people they captured home. Vikings also sold thralls abroad, especially on the Byzantine slave markets. Thralls—buying and selling human beings–were an important part of the Viking economy.
We can’t know for sure how many people who were captured and used as thralls, but several accounts have mentioned that around 30% of the Viking population were thralls.
Thralls would usually have shaved heads and wear white (or undyed) clothing, which would separate them from their owners.
Most people think of Vikings as warriors, but they were mainly farmers. Some were both, raiding foreign lands between sowing and reaping.
There’s a lot of debate about why farmers suddenly—or not so suddenly—started raiding foreign lands back in the late 700s. Several historians have claimed that prosperous times and richer farming can explain why Scandinavians started sailing far away to raid and conquer.
1. Richer farming meant more children growing up—not dying from hunger or diseases–which again meant less land to younger sons (and daughters). They needed to find alternative occupations or even land abroad.
2. Richer farmers meant more traders coming to Scandinavia. These traders needed safe travels to bother making the trip north so local piracy moved further away and foreign shores were raided instead of shores closer to home.
3. Richer farmers meant more time and finances for ship building. Ship building had an enormous evolution in the late 700s and forward and the Viking ships were a main reason for the war victories of the Vikings.
The Explorers and Tradesmen
Vikings are mainly known for their raids, but a large part of their travels were about trade, buying and selling goods abroad.
Vikings traveled far and wide. They made it to Greenland, North America, all over Europe and Northern Africa, along the coast to Bjarmaland (today: northern part of Russia), and through the rivers down to Byzantine (today: Turkey and areas around).
They also invited people from far away to visit the local trade markets in Hedeby, Birka, and Kaupang (just to mention some) or to stay and live with them and marry them. There are records of women with North American and Mongolian ancestry who lived and had children in Scandinavia in the Viking age.
The Craftsmen and -women
Shipbuilding became an important craft and the number of ships built during the Viking age must have been enormous. But it wasn’t just the ships that needed building; ships also needed sails. Imagine the amount of wool needed and how long it took to weave 90 square meters of sail.
Blacksmiths were also important. Everything from pots and pans to axes and chainmail were made by blacksmiths. The best swords were Frankish, but Scandinavian blacksmiths tried to copy the swords they’d stolen.
Vølve were women who had a special connection to the gods. They were the local religious interpreters and had a powerful role.
The Vølve had an enormous authority and were handsomely paid for their job. They were said to be great seductresses and men were warned against entering sexual relationships with the Vølve as those rarely ended well.
The Vølve used drums, meditation and hallucinogenic drugs in their practice.
Frille were mistresses of powerful men. They had important roles and were seen as wives of the heart in a time when high ranking men and women had to marry for land and power.
Frille were established, their children were acknowledged and there was no shame if the relationship ended. They were free to go home to their families or to marry someone—they might even go home with renewed honor if the men they’d been frille to was a man of power and the frille brought them children, especially sons.
A frille could also secure protection for her family and was often encouraged to enter the relationship as a frille to gain power.
Kings and Queens, Jarls and Husfruer
Denmark, Sweden and Norway weren’t countries as we know them today before late in the Viking era. They were smaller kingdoms, often divided into even smaller areas governed by jarls and chiefs. These different rulers would be connected to one another through marriage, various agreements and honor.
Many of the names of the early Viking rulers have been lost, or there’s doubt whether the names we do have are myths or real. Gorm the Old and Thyra Danebod are usually recognized as the first king and queen of a unified Denmark. We know of them from a rune stone made by their son Harald Bluetooth (yes, he later gave name to the Bluetooth technology – check out the Bluetooth logo and find Harald Bluetooth’s runes). Harald Bluetooth claimed to also be king of Norway, but Harald Fairhair is usually considered the first Norwegian king. They all lived in the early 900s.
The various rulers didn’t have unlimited power as they had to answer to their local “ting,” which was a gathering of the people in power in that area. They would often gather in circles, heavy rocks being their seats, so that everyone could speak and be heard.
“Ting” is a part of the modern-day democracy in Scandinavia. The parliament of Norway is called Stortinget (The Great Ting) and the parliament of Denmark is called Folketinget (The Peoples’ Ting).
Charlotte has one close friend. Unfortunately, that close friend lives in Norway, and Charlotte has never seen her before. A cosplay convention in Oslo is Charlotte’s chance at finally meeting her online BFF, but when the masks come off, Charlotte is in for a big surprise.
Did you know that a Viking would wonder what you meant if you called them Viking? They used the word viking as something you did—you went viking when you traveled out to fight, conquer and raid—not as something you were.
Today we use the word Viking to describe all Scandinavians who lived between 793 (the attack on Lindisfarne) and 1066 (the battle of Stamford Bridge). Some use rounder dates and say from the year 800 to the end of the 11th century.
Facts – what are our
It may come
as a surprise, but we actually know very little about the Vikings compared to,
for instance, the ancient Romans.
The Vikings themselves were an oral people. That means all their stories, their tales, their religion and their communication was by mouth. They wrote very little down—at least very little that has survived until today.
did write down were runes. You may know them as these odd symbols that look
vaguely like our letters but are almost impossible to read. The runes were seen
as magical and something one made for very special occasions. We have runes
that show the birth of Denmark as a nation, we have runes that celebrate people
and achievements, runes from thralls who became free men, and runes we just
don’t know the meaning of.
don’t have are Viking texts of any length that tell us anything about their
lives, their history or their religion.
We do have
the Sagas, the 29 Icelandic Sagas, the king Sagas, the religious Sagas and all
the other Sagas. They were long and detailed and incredibly interesting tales
about the Vikings. Saga means “what is said,” so they are supposed to be a
written version of all the oral tales.
with the Sagas we have today is when they were written. The oldest Saga was
written in 1120 and most of them were written between 1200 and 1400. That’s
quite a lot of years after the Vikings roamed the oceans. The Sagas were
written by Christians, but the Vikings only took the new religion fairly late,
and a large part of the Vikings believed in the Norse gods.
though we have quite a lot of Sagas, historians assume we’ve lost about 90% of
them. Many were lost during the Protestant book burnings. We may have lost
vital Sagas that could contradict or give light to the Sagas we do have.
have another historical source from Scandinavia: Saxo Grammaticus started
writing his enormous History of the Danes in 1185 and the Viking age played a
Saxo’s stories incredibly interesting, but you must take them with a grain (or
a Viking ship) of salt. Some are based on myths, some on oral tales, but
they’re all colored by Saxo’s main purpose, which was to write a “heroic tale
about the history of the Danes.”
Foreign monks and Arab
quite a few contemporary written sources, but none of them were from the Vikings
themselves. There are accounts of the doings and sayings of Vikings written by
monks and priests from what’s now Great Britain, by Arab travelers who visited
Viking settlements, and by people the Vikings were at war with.
these contemporary sources aren’t very flattering to the Vikings. If you have
Vikings breathing down your door, threatening death and destruction, you’re
hardly going to write an essay to lament on the beauty and strength of the
goes for the Arab travelers. They may not have been enemies of the Vikings, but
they did find Viking customs odd and different from their own. That certainly
shows in their writings.
Graves and other
but certainly not least, source is everything the archeologists find from the
Vikings age. They’ve found graves, ships, remains of houses and cities,
clothes, jewelry, and thousands of everyday items that show us a lot about how
the Vikings lived.
problems with all these archeological findings are the lack of information.
It’s not like a body in a grave will stand up and say, “Hello, I’m Olaf the
Handsome, and I was the Jarl of Kaupang. I have pots and pans in my grave
because I made a mean porridge when I was alive. My grave also contains my
favorite horse because I’m going to need it in Valhalla.” The graves don’t have
gravestones and we often don’t even know if the bodies are men or women.
archeological findings tell us that Vikings were very busy grooming
themselves—they’ve found SO many combs, tweezers, and even instruments to rid
their ears of earwax—but they tell us little about who was who and what
relation they had to one another.
archeological findings may tell us tales of the people who lived over a 1000
years ago, but the tales need to be interpreted, and those interpretations are
often based on the life and prejudices of the interpreter, namely archeologists
have found quite a lot from the Viking age, but what about everything that
hasn’t been found? Can we deduct that what hasn’t been found, doesn’t exist? Of
I was told
by a Viking teacher here in Norway (yes, we have teachers who can teach you how
to become a Viking) that they’ve never found Viking age pants. They’ve found an
older grave—from before the year 793—with a man wearing pants, but they’ve
never found any pants in Scandinavia that can be dated from the Viking age.
Does that mean Vikings ran around bare-assed? Probably not (I do have a vivid
imagination, though, and could imagine it very well!). It’s just that pants
have never been found.
teacher told me something fascinating: Men did not remove their upper body
clothing when they were hot. They removed whatever they were wearing on their
legs. So, all these romance covers with naked male chests should probably have
naked butts instead.
Blood on the walls. 300 to 500 guests. Three days of partying. Vikings made a blast when they celebrated Midwinter Blot.
The English word Christmas is closely related to the Christian faith. The Scandinavian word for the same holiday is Jul. The use of that word–or rather Jól–can be traced back to before Christianity came to the North. And back to before the Vikings.
So how did the Vikings celebrate Christmas (or Jól)?
According to this article (in Norwegian) Vikings probably celebrated Jól when the days turned longer–when the gods brought the sun back–and it was celebrated as a blót and a large party.
Blót was a sacrifice of animals. Everyone brought sprigs and sprayed the walls–inside and out–with the blood of the sacrificed animals. People were sprayed too.
Toasts were made to Odin for victory and power, to Njord and Frøy for a good farming year and for peace, and to Brage in the memory of lost friends. Blóts were also held at Midsummer and on other important days.
The party was probably held by the chieftain who invited all the local farmers to a potluck–everyone brought something to the party–and 300 to 500 people would party for three days.
Meat and beer were central to the party. The meat was boiled on fireplaces at the center of the party and the beer was poured generously.
The Vikings were an oral people. They did not write down their stories, they told them to each other. Parties like Jól would be a perfect time to captivate hundreds of people with tales of the gods and of conquests and great achievements.
Long and great poems would be told of kings, queens, jarls, and chieftains. Music and songs would also be a central part of the party.
The Jól party was probably held around the shortest days and longest nights of the year. In Scandinavia that meant very short days (in some areas to the far north there were no days at all) and very long nights. If one prayed to the gods they might turn the season around and grant longer days again.
We know today that the longer days will come back every Winter, but for the Vikings, there was always the fear of the Fimbulvinter, the harsh Winter that comes before the end of the world.
Mobility, knowledge, skill and the element of surprise. Those are some of the answers to how the Vikings seem to have won all their battles.
Viking researcher Else Roesdahl answers the question about why Vikings were so superior in battles in this article (in Norwegian).
“Archeological findings and written sources show that Vikings didn’t always win their battles,” she says. “Viking mass graves show that some raids went terribly wrong.”
Surprise attacks were important
Vikings did manage to raid villages, churches, monasteries and cities and one of the main reasons was their surprise attacks. Especially at the beginning of the age of Vikings, the element of surprise was incredibly important.
The Vikings also had a well-developed intelligence service so they knew exactly when and where to strike, according to Else Roesdahl. She uses the attack on Nantes in 843 as an example. Vikings attacked the French city just when it was filled with large crowds of people celebrating John the Baptist.
The Vikings didn’t always go back to Scandinavia for the Winter but would stay in Europe and attack when the opportunity came. That meant knowing more about the locals and therefore striking when the opportunity arose.
They would use inner conflicts and make their move when a country or a city was weakened by political unrest.
The men and women from the north were heavily armed and very skilled as it was a requirement for all men to learn how to handle their weapons, even if they were farmers and never planned on going to war.
It was also to their advantage that dying in battle was considered an honor and not something to fear.