The Best Books About Vikings, Heresy, And General Mayhem

Mike Vasich Author Of Loki
By Mike Vasich

The Books I Picked & Why

Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings

By Kevin Crossley-Holland

Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings

Why this book?

If you’ve going to read Loki, you probably want to pick this one up first. Crossley-Holland gives an immensely well-written retelling of the classic Norse myths that provided the major framework for my own books about Loki. If you’re read myths before, you know they can be a tad dry sometimes, usually due to a lack of personality on the part of the characters. They are usually presented as archetypes, which is cool enough, but lacks a narrative punch. Crossley-Holland presents them in a slightly more modern narrative, which brings the characters to life. My rooting for Loki helped form the kernel for my own version.


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To Reign in Hell

By Steven Brust

To Reign in Hell

Why this book?

The title is taken from the John Milton poem, Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n,” and tells the story of the War in Heaven before the Creation from the point of view of the bad guys. So basically, we get the Devils’ (not a typo, by the way) point of view, and, like in Milton (arguably), they are the heroes of the story. Instead of the classic two-dimensional villains who exist solely to oppose the hero, Brust flushes them out so well that you can’t help but root for them. Nor can you understand why anybody would like this God dude or his weird ‘son’, Jesus. The devils in question are Satan and Lucifer, curiously split into two characters for this story, which provides further opportunities for plot and character development.


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Song of Kali

By Dan Simmons

Song of Kali

Why this book?

A World Fantasy Award winner and the first novel by this genre-crossing author who is probably most famous for his sci-fi epic, Hyperion, Song of Kali is a dark fantasy/horror novel about a cult that worships the Hindu goddess/demon, Kali, who is known as a goddess of death, among other things. Kali doesn’t really make much of an entrance, but Simmons weaves an intriguing tale tinged with the supernatural, centered around a mystical poet who may or may not be dead. Simmons loves integrating poetry and poets into his stories, and the suspense around this particular poet and his connection to the cult of Kali is palpable. It’s not mythology per se, but boy is it dark. It’s also pretty short, and easily could be consumed in a single reading.


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Grendel

By John Gardner

Grendel

Why this book?

Like To Reign in Hell, this is a retelling of a classic story from the viewpoint of the "villain". In this case, the classic story is Beowulf, and the villain is, of course, Grendel. This was another book that made me want to do a revision of the Loki myth, but Grendel is a different kind of character than Loki, Satan, or Lucifer. To start with, he’s a monster, so there isn’t tons of introspection. But it’s fascinating to see him as the victim when he’s really nothing more than a monster or a force of nature in the original story. He eats a bunch of thanes and then gets his arm ripped off by the epic hero, Beowulf. Grendel actually ends at that point in the novel, so most of it takes place prior to the disarming. Gardner was a writing teacher before his untimely death, and Grendel is a tad on the ‘literary’ side, but if you like misunderstood bad guys, it’s definitely worth a read.


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Towing Jehovah

By James Morrow

Towing Jehovah

Why this book?

This is not a read for the religiously fragile. It’s the most subversive novel about the notion of the Judeo-Christian God that I’ve ever read. The premise is that God is dead and his massive corpse--two miles long!--has fallen into the ocean. A disgraced supertanker captain à la Captain Hazelwood of the Exxon Valdez is hired by the archangel Raphael to tow his corpse to a massive hollowed-out glacier in the Arctic for entombment. But of course, the corpse is decomposing as they drag it along, and the crew suffers much existential angst as the journey unfolds. Hilarious and compelling religious satire, and also a World Fantasy Award winner. Towing Jehovah is followed by two optional sequels that are a bit darker, but worth a read if you like this one.


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