The best factual and fantasy books for coming-of-age Viking stories

Who am I?

I grew up on a Viking battlefield, in an English coastal village once raided then occupied by Norsemen. We had ancestors who lived on the Isle of Orkney, and in the Celtic south-west. From a young age, I read Norse and Celtic myths and legends, and went on to study history and philosophy – and then became an author. Now, I have family in Sweden and grandchildren of Ash and Elm. My list offers pure escapism, but also shows how our ancestors lived in an age with no electricity or compulsory schooling. It’s the wonderful combination of the ‘other world’ myths and history that I believe makes us who we are. 

I wrote...

The Doomsong Sword

By J.G. Harlond,

Book cover of The Doomsong Sword

What is my book about?

Lazy Davor spins wild stories until the day he runs away – into real danger. With only a wild wolf for company, and the occasional appearance of a mysterious Master Odo (who might be the Aesir god Odin), Davor finds himself on a nightmare journey that leads to the Doomsong Sword, then to the most dangerous dragon in the cold North – and then to his true identity. 

A tale of dark deeds and bold adventures based on the Norse Volsung Saga.

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The books I picked & why

The Last Light of the Sun

By Guy Gavriel Kay,

Book cover of The Last Light of the Sun

Why did I love this book?

The publisher’s blurb for this novel says: "In the stirring tradition of Northern Europe's heroic sagas, Kay brings to life an unforgettable world balanced on the knife-edge of change."

The lives of three young people, a Celt, an Anglo-Saxon and a Viking, coincide in this unforgettable story full of action and elements of the supernatural. Kay mixes history and fantasy in his own special way to create a frightening yet tender coming-of-age tale.

A beautifully written page-turner.

By Guy Gavriel Kay,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Light of the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful, moving saga evoking the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures of a thousand years ago from the acclaimed author of The Fionavar Tapestry.

“A historical fantasy of the highest order, the work of a man who may well be the reigning master of the form.”—The Washington Post Book World

Bern Thorkellson, punished for his father’s sins, denied his heritage and home, commits an act of vengeance and desperation that brings him face-to-face with a past he’s been trying to leave behind...

In the Anglcyn lands of King Aeldred, the shrewd king, battling inner demons all the while, shores up…

Book cover of Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

Why did I love this book?

This very readable non-fiction is an account of how the people we call the Vikings lived and why they went a’viking.

Historian Neil Price describes in an easy-to-comprehend manner the Scandinavian world of long ago – when gods, spirits, and humans co-existed in a brutal axe-age. The author explains strange superstitions and how the belief in supernatural beings affected daily life.

Readers also learn about the terrible climate catastrophe that made northern lands virtually uninhabitable, and where Viking explorers sailed to in search of fertile land and treasure. My own family background gives me a strong connection to this history and its special mythology. 

By Neil Price,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Children of Ash and Elm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'As brilliant a history of the Vikings as one could possibly hope to read' Tom Holland

The 'Viking Age' is traditionally held to begin in June 793 when Scandinavian raiders attacked the monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, and to end in September 1066, when King Harald Hardrada of Norway died leading the charge against the English line at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This book, the most wide-ranging and comprehensive assessment of the current state of our knowledge, takes a refreshingly different view. It shows that the Viking expansion began generations before the…

The Ring Breaker

By Jean Gill,

Book cover of The Ring Breaker

Why did I love this book?

This beautifully written novel showed me what life must have been like on the island of Orkney in the Dark Ages and trapped me in a gripping, almost ‘other-world’ coming-of-age tale.

Full of fascinating descriptive details and wise human insight, the story tells of the developing, sometimes tender, sometimes aggressive, relationship between two homeless adolescents in a very dangerous adult environment.

By Jean Gill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ring Breaker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

The Earthsea Trilogy

By Ursula Le Guin,

Book cover of The Earthsea Trilogy

Why did I love this book?

This is pure, classic fantasy with dragons and wizards. Full of magic and gripping action scenes, including aerial battles between dragons, this is also a beautifully written coming-of-age story.

Le Guin’s world building is utterly believable; there are tense moments of human doubt and despair, evil antagonists, and a story that has kept me turning the pages for years – even though I know what is going to happen. Another example of top class, classic fantasy that offers more on each reading. 

By Ursula Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Earthsea Trilogy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Exclusive 3-in-1 harcover book. Includes A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA: The windswept isles of Earthsea were famous for wizards, and the greatest of all was Ged, called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth. Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.THE TOMBS OF ATUAN: Chosen to serve the Ancient and Nameless Powers of the Earth, Tenar is taken away from her home and family to…

The Lord of the Rings

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Book cover of The Lord of the Rings

Why did I love this book?

Not so many young people read The Lord of the Rings these days, but it is so full of human wisdom and old-world beliefs that reading it is very worthwhile.

Together with The Hobbit, this trilogy has fed my life-long interest in Norse myths and legends. The basic story follows the terrifying coming-of-age experiences of a young Hobbit in a desperate situation. Accompanied by true friends he must brave the worst of horrors to save his own soul.

It is a timeless story my family has read numerous times, each re-reading offering a new joy or insight.

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Why should I read it?

52 authors picked The Lord of the Rings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of…

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