The most recommended books about Orkney Scotland

Who picked these books? Meet our 13 experts.

13 authors created a book list connected to Orkney Scotland, and here are their favorite Orkney Scotland books.
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Book cover of King Hereafter

Mary Lancaster Author Of A Prince to be Feared: The Love Story of Vlad Dracula

From my list on controversial historical heroes.

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish writer of historical fiction and historical romance. I’m also a history graduate with imagination, by which I mean I’m as interested in what might have happened as what definitely did! So much of history is open to interpretation, taking account of who wrote what for whom, and why, and that is a large part of what fascinates me. And of course, I love a good historical novel that combines compelling writing with excellent research—especially when a controversial hero is shown in a new or captivating light.

Mary's book list on controversial historical heroes

Mary Lancaster Why did Mary love this book?

This book became my ultimate escapism at a low point in my life. It’s a wonderfully written, well-researched epic novel about the eleventh century Scottish king, Macbeth, based on the bold premise that he and Thorfinn the Mighty, Earl of Orkney, were one and the same man. Most of us—especially those who went to school in Scotland!—are familiar with the Macbeth of Shakespeare, but Dorothy Dunnett brings him alive in his own time, no guilt-ridden villain but a complicated warrior of great depth and humanity, true to his beliefs, his people, and his wife who is nothing like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth either! This is a rattling good read by any standards—engrossing, exciting, humorous, and moving. Even knowing the tragedy was coming, I cried. Each time.

By Dorothy Dunnett,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked King Hereafter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel about Macbeth, King of Scotland, by the author of the "Lymond" series. 11th-century Europe is full of young kings. Macbeth - part-Christian, part-Viking - has the imagination and determination to move himself and his people out of a barbarian past and into flowering nationhood.


Book cover of Magnar

Jennifer Ivy Walker Author Of The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven

From my list on paranormal romances with shapeshifting warriors.

Who am I?

I have always loved fairy tales, myths, and fantasy, having developed a vivid imagination during childhood because we lived far from friends. When I began studying French, I discovered a love for medieval legends such as Tristan et Yseult.  During trips to France, I explored troglodyte caves of the Loire Valley and prehistoric grottos, such as La Grotte de Lascaux. The more I researched legends and myths, the more my fantasy world of paranormal romance and shapeshifting warriors evolved.

Jennifer's book list on paranormal romances with shapeshifting warriors

Jennifer Ivy Walker Why did Jennifer love this book?

Magnar is the Leader of the Wolves of Clan Sutherland, a band of shapeshifting warriors who fight to defend their kingdom in the Orkney Isles of medieval Scotland. This tale of the sizzling paranormal romance between Magnar and Elspeth is filled with Fae magic, Celtic legend, and men who transform into fierce, savage wolves.

I love chivalrous tales of knights defending their Lady, and shapeshifting warriors who struggle to tame the beast within. A fiery, passionate, and intense romance with an unlikely hero, just like the French Romanticism that I adore! 

By Mary Morgan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Known as the Barbarian, Magnar MacAlpin is a fierce ruler for those under his command. As leader of the Wolves of Clan Sutherland, his loyalty and obedience lies with Scotland. However, the king's last demand is not something Magnar will tolerate. After Elspeth Gunn's brother the Chieftain of Castle Steinn is murdered, she flees with her nephew, and finds safety amongst a band of men who are rumored to be part wolf. When the king forces her to wed a heathen Northman, she fears losing her heart and soul not only to the man, but the beast as well. In…


Book cover of The Ring Breaker

J.G. Harlond Author Of The Doomsong Sword

From my list on factual fantasy 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. 

J.G.'s book list on factual fantasy for coming-of-age Viking stories

J.G. Harlond Why did J.G. 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.


Book cover of Scotland's Hidden Sacred Past

L.S. Berthelsen Author Of The Haling and the Scottish Templars

From my list on navigating ancient wisdom traditions and the cosmos.

Who am I?

I am a Templar history enthusiast with a penchant for spiritual surprises hiding in plain sight. I believe words are vessels of spirit and that writing opens a channel of communication for manifesting thoughts into reality. Traveling throughout Europe, Scotland, and England has deepened my confidence that there was so much more to the Middle Ages than crusades and feudalism. The Templars facilitated many societal transformations, including a flowering of mysticism under their guardianship. The mystery is… why have we not connected these dots before? And I suspect there’s much more to discover! My books gather research threads from seemingly isolated historic characters, places, and events into cohesive, inspired, and vibrant stories.

L.S.'s book list on navigating ancient wisdom traditions and the cosmos

L.S. Berthelsen Why did L.S. love this book?

Of all Silva’s books, I am most excited about this one, because of his groundbreaking discoveries. I admire his relentless tenacity for research, while sniffing out enigmatic information. My love of Scottish history often leaves me feeling lost regarding its ancient history. But I also am super careful to take many extrapolations on ancient history with a grain of salt. Silva’s writings are refreshing and his sense of humor is delightful. So, if you want to learn more about your Scottish roots from before Christianity arrived, then take a stroll through ancient circles aligned with the constellation Orion. Home may not be where you think it is!

By Freddy Silva,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Scotland's Hidden Sacred Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Around 6000 BC a revolution took place on Orkney and the Western Isles of Scotland. An outstanding collection of stone circles, standing stones, round towers and passage mounds appeared seemingly out of nowhere. And yet many such monuments were not indigenous to Britain, but to regions of the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean.
Their creators were equally mysterious. Traditions tell of the Papae and Peti, 'strangers from afar' who were physically different, dressed in white tunics and lived aside from the regular population. They were regarded as master astronomers with an uncanny ability to work with enormous stones. But where…


Book cover of Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney

M.A. Grant Author Of The Iron Crown

From my list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney.

Who am I?

When I stepped off the ferry onto Mainland Orkney, a piece of myself I never knew was missing suddenly slotted into place. Orkney became my geographic soulmate and I knew that The Darkest Court trilogy’s final book—and final battle—would have to take place there. Whenever I find myself longing to return, I pick up one of these books and throw myself back into the stories and histories that caught hold of my imagination all those years ago. I hope they stir your sense of magic and wonder the same way.

M.A.'s book list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney

M.A. Grant Why did M.A. love this book?

I’m a sucker for pretty much any saga, those pieces of literature where legend and myth and history mingle into a perfect mixture of inspiration for the creative mind. This saga gives us a who’s who of historical figures, as well as poetic stories about journeys, battles, and political maneuverings. My favorite bits are the smaller, easier to overlook details though, such as the cause of Sigurd the Powerful’s death. The Orkneyinga is a consuming read about the history of Orkney through medieval eyes.

By Anonymous, Hermann Pálsson (translator), Paul Edwards (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Orkneyinga Saga as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written around AD 1200 by an unnamed Icelandic author, the Orkneyinga Saga is an intriguing fusion of myth, legend and history. The only medieval chronicle to have Orkney as the central place of action, it tells of an era when the islands were still part of the Viking world, beginning with their conquest by the kings of Norway in the ninth century. The saga describes the subsequent history of the Earldom of Orkney and the adventures of great Norsemen such as Sigurd the Powerful, St Magnus the Martyr and Hrolf, the conqueror of Normandy. Savagely powerful and poetic, this is…


Book cover of The Outrun: A Memoir

Miranda Keeling Author Of The Year I Stopped To Notice

From my list on the magic in the ordinary.

Who am I?

Before I started to focus on writing, I was a performer: an actor, a magician, and an escapologist. I’ve learnt a great deal about how to construct a story for an audience. I’m excited by the layers of a good narrative—by what makes it work. In my own life I’m always looking for the details: reflections in a puddle, the interactions of strangers, lost items left behind. My book is all about stopping in the middle of this overwhelming world to notice the everyday moments and to celebrate them. I often find that there is magic there, hidden in plain sight.

Miranda's book list on the magic in the ordinary

Miranda Keeling Why did Miranda love this book?

I was born in a fishing village in Yorkshire and although I live in the city now, I always feel the pull of the sea. This book is a memoir set in Orkney and London. It is about the writer’s struggle with addiction and her recovery – partly through reconnecting to the natural landscape again. Amy’s prose is clean and bright. She constructs sentences with no fat on them. Her descriptions are sharply accurate. I really related to her need to get away from London to find her way back to health. London life is intense and although I love it here, it is a constantly demanding city. Reading this novel reinforced my desire to look at things closely, notice them anew, and to remember to go and visit the sea, whenever I can. 

By Amy Liptrot,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

After a decade of heavy partying and hard drinking in London, Amy Liptrot returns home to Orkney, a remote island off the north of Scotland. The Outrun maps Amy's inspiring recovery as she walks along windy coasts, swims in icy Atlantic waters, tracks Orkney's wildlife, and reconnects with her parents, revisiting and rediscovering the place that shaped her.

A Guardian Best Nonfiction Book of 2016
Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller
New Statesman Book of the Year


Book cover of The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown

M.A. Grant Author Of The Iron Crown

From my list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney.

Who am I?

When I stepped off the ferry onto Mainland Orkney, a piece of myself I never knew was missing suddenly slotted into place. Orkney became my geographic soulmate and I knew that The Darkest Court trilogy’s final book—and final battle—would have to take place there. Whenever I find myself longing to return, I pick up one of these books and throw myself back into the stories and histories that caught hold of my imagination all those years ago. I hope they stir your sense of magic and wonder the same way.

M.A.'s book list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney

M.A. Grant Why did M.A. love this book?

Brown is a seminal figure in Orcadian literature, and the moment you read any one of his poems, it’s clear why. This is an enjoyable introduction to his works and features some of the poems you can’t find in print in other sources. His poems balance the beauty and complicated reality of his home, but his love for the place shines through every carefully chosen word. Even if you don’t know if you like poetry, the rhythms of his works make them accessible to everyone, proving him to truly be Orkney’s skald. 

By Brian Murray, Archie Bevan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George Mackay Brown is recognised as one of Scotland's greatest twentieth-century lyric poets. His work is integral to the flowering of Scottish literature over the last fifty years. Admired by many fellow poets, including Seamus Heaney and Douglas Dunn, his poems are deeply individual and unmistakable in their setting: 'the small green world' of the Orkney Islands where he lived for most of his life with its elemental forces of sea and sky and Norse and Icelandic ancestry, is brought vividly and memorably to life.

Here, his rich resonant poetry is collected in one volume, making available again many poems…


Book cover of The Mermaid Bride and Other Orkney Folk Tales

Janis Mackay Author Of The Wee Seal

From my list on evoking the sea and shore.

Who am I?

I have lived by the sea in the far north of Scotland, where I wrote The Wee Seal, and several other sea and seal themed books. I now live in Edinburgh by the sea and swim daily. I am also a storyteller with a keen interest in myth, and how myth impacts our lives. The recommendations I have given a nod to myth and their place in our life, and the sea, and how, at least in Britain, it is rarely that far away. A little wild, in a world that can feel, sometimes, too tame.

Janis' book list on evoking the sea and shore

Janis Mackay Why did Janis love this book?

I love this book because it takes me to the far north (where I used to live).

It takes me back to the wide skies, jagged cliffs, pounding waves, miles of rough open land, and seals gazing at you from every bay and cove. I love reading old traditional tales because, as a writer, they feed me, and give me ideas for new stories.

Book cover of Maeshowe and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney

M.A. Grant Author Of The Iron Crown

From my list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney.

Who am I?

When I stepped off the ferry onto Mainland Orkney, a piece of myself I never knew was missing suddenly slotted into place. Orkney became my geographic soulmate and I knew that The Darkest Court trilogy’s final book—and final battle—would have to take place there. Whenever I find myself longing to return, I pick up one of these books and throw myself back into the stories and histories that caught hold of my imagination all those years ago. I hope they stir your sense of magic and wonder the same way.

M.A.'s book list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney

M.A. Grant Why did M.A. love this book?

Orkney is home to more historical sites and monuments than I can name, but for those of us who celebrate the Winter Solstice, Maeshowe is a critical pilgrimage site. This official souvenir guide to Maeshowe and other Neolithic sites is a perfect companion to the stories and historical facts woven by tour guides. It also doesn’t hurt that you can pull it out, stare at the beautiful photographs, and imagine yourself back in Orkney every time you long to return.

Book cover of Orkney

Melanie Golding Author Of The Hidden

From my list on folklore of the sea.

Who am I?

I love the idea that much of folklore is based on universal human stories that are still true today. Selkies may be mystical creatures but they are also women treated badly by men, then judged for their response by wider society. Because of this universality, as well as the compelling magical element, there are many modern novels that make use of selkie folklore, which in several ways shares roots with the folklore of mermaids. I’ve picked out a few that spoke to me. I hope many more readers will discover these sea-faring, shape-shifting, magic-realist tales.

Melanie's book list on folklore of the sea

Melanie Golding Why did Melanie love this book?

This exquisite novel begins with a university lecturer (Too old? Too deluded?) in love with student forty years his junior. She’s an ethereal, white-haired creature, but at first, their love seems mutual, and plausible. They honeymoon in Orkney, where selkie legends begin to encroach on his state of mind. He’s obsessed with her, and she’s obsessed with the sea. The reader is never quite sure if she’s a selkie or not, which resonates with me as I love books where ambiguity is an integral part of the narrative. 

By Amy Sackville,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the…