Hello folks, and welcome back to our scouring of the Otherworld for stories from beyond our time and place. This is our last promotion before our big Comic Con stop in Philadelphia, where we’re hoping to meet some new fans. We figured we’d move along with a fervent battle cry.
With that in mind, there’s no better story to leave you with than Olaf Tormund’s Swordless Warriors. Rough and bloody, it tells the tale of ravagers from the north, and their invasion. More importantly, it goes into darker territory when it introduces the mythical berserkers, with their superhuman strength. Introduced as villains, these vikings become interesting and relatable as the story progresses.
“Swordless Warriors” tells us the history of the legendary Berserker warriors – the most fearsome and bloodthirsty faction among the Viking soldiers – incorporating some fantastic elements into the narrative by spicing factual historical research with a good chunk of mythology, folklore from the far North and a few controversial modern hypotheses.
What causes the “berserkergang”, the outbreak of madness that makes those men fight as if the devil himself commanded them; red-eyed and foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs, angrily chewing their tongues in the heat of battle and, lacking enemies to attack, even charging trees or their own reflection in mirrors? Could it be an unknown plague? Hallucinogenic substances? Religious fanaticism? Genetic disorders? Or perhaps even lycanthropy?
Do no expect the romanticism of books such as “Beowulf” or Michael Crichton’s “Eaters of the Dead”, where the sons of Odin are depicted as white knights fighting to save innocent maidens. In the manner of films like “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last Samurai”, “Swordless Warriors” initially presents the readers with mere savage, mindless barbarians and then takes them on an unexpected epic journey that will ultimately end in respect and understanding (perhaps even admiration) for the motives and ways of the strange indomitable fighters.
The unbeatable Hellenistic phalanxes fought for riches. Genghis Khan’s mighty riders warred for lands. But this book is not about those. It is about an army that despised conquest, wanted no glory, did not seek freedom or revenge. They battled for the combat itself, for their wrath and their fury – and did it completely unshielded and unarmed.
It is rare that we see a historical epic that doesn’t rely heavily on enormous battle sequences as its main draw. It is even rarer that we get to see a historical epic where the reader ends up rooting for the “villains”. But “Swordless Warriors” goes beyond the regulations of the genre – often into harsh, uncharted territories that are pretty much outside the box most fantasy writers think in altogether. It is written in a Spartan manner that befits the theme of the piece but still works as a thoughtful study of human nature which asks the readers how much a person can bare to take physically, mentally and emotionally.
The book begins by introducing the central character, Paolo DiMontese. He is an incredibly talented Roman sculptor who is haunted by a traumatic event in his history, so much so that his work means zilch to him. Attending a party in Norfolk, in honour of the Saxon king, Paolo is immediately struck by the beauty of a Danish duchess named Astrid, who rekindles a sort of fire that Paolo has not experienced in a long time.
However, soon after the party gets underway, the castle is assaulted by Viking forces and, while the king’s men are able to repel these warriors for the most part, they are then assaulted by Berserkers – another Viking faction possessing almost-superhuman strength. Paolo, Astrid and a few others are captured and taken back by the Vikings to their homeland as slaves, while the rest of the guests and even the king himself are brutally slaughtered. During the several months of captivity, Paolo and Astrid grow closer together as their companions die off around them and the two become each other’s sole human links. But, as things progress, Paolo gradually comes to an understanding with the Berserker leader as well.
Despite the extent of time it covers, “Swordless Warriors” moves incredibly fast, weighing in at a slim 37,000 words. In this period, it seeks to never lag, even when portraying long moments out at sea; the book places the readers in the characters’ shoes, as they unwind the secrets of the strange Northerners together. First with fear, trepidation and disgust, but then progressively coming to a recognition and, possibly, reverence of the Norse ways.
RATING COMPONENTS: depictions of violence, sexual content
With a unique style, Swordless Warriors delivers you into a world that makes you feel as though you’ve traveled somewhere else. It’s historical fiction that’ll get your blood pumping, and before you know it, you’ll have raced through its pages. If you know anyone who likes viking or norse tales, this is right up their alley. Check the book out on Amazon today.
Mike is the GM and host of podcast, Looking for RPG: Tellest and former co-host of the podcasts That's Entertainment and OuaT: The Unofficial Once Upon a Time Podcast
Mike also is the creator of Tellest, a world full of fantasy and super heroes!