The best saga books

9 authors have picked their favorite books about sagas and why they recommend each book.

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The Saga of the Volsungs

By Unknown, Jackson Crawford (translator),

Book cover of The Saga of the Volsungs: With the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok

The closest thing to a "novel" from medieval Scandinavia, The Saga of the Volsungs was written down in the 1200s in Iceland by an author who knew the poems about the Volsungs in the Poetic Edda, but also knew a vast wealth of additional poems about them that are otherwise lost to us. Rather than transmit the poems directly, this unknown author chose to attempt to put together a cohesive story of the sprawling generations of this family, beginning with the fathering of their first ancestor by the god Odin and continuing through all the events that lead Odin himself to engineer the death of its last generations. Here we have dwarves forging magic swords, dragon-slayers, Valkyries laboring under the weight of ill-considered oaths, and star-crossed lovers seeking bloody revenge. This volume also includes the medieval "fanfic" sequel, The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrók, written shortly after The Saga of the…


Who am I?

Jackson Crawford, Ph.D., taught Norse mythology at multiple universities (including UCLA, Berkeley, and Colorado) for over a decade before becoming a full-time public educator on Old Norse myth and language via his translations and Youtube channel in 2020. He is passionate about presenting the authentic, undistorted medieval stories in clear, thrilling, modern English.


I wrote...

The Wanderer's Havamal

By Unknown, Jackson Crawford (translator),

Book cover of The Wanderer's Havamal

What is my book about?

The Wanderer's Hávamál features Jackson Crawford’s complete, carefully revised English translation of the Old Norse poem Hávamál, newly annotated for this volume, together with facing original Old Norse text sourced directly from the Codex Regius manuscript.

Rounding out the volume are Crawford’s classic Cowboy Hávamál and translations of other related texts central to understanding the character, wisdom, and mysteries of Óðinn (Odin). Portable and reader-friendly, it makes an ideal companion for both lovers of Old Norse mythology and those new to the wisdom of this central Eddic poem wherever they may find themselves.

The Governess of Highland Hall

By Carrie Turansky,

Book cover of The Governess of Highland Hall

If you’re like me and a fan of Downton Abbey, then you’ll appreciate the well-researched Edwardian period details found in this charming story, as well as the sweet romance. Julia Foster is not your usual governess, having a remarkable backstory of her own, but the way she cares for the widowed William and his children is heart-warming and will captivate your heart. 


Who am I?

I’m a long-time lover of Christian romance, and now with over a dozen Christian historical romance books published, and a similar amount of Christian contemporary romances published or soon to be, I think I’m someone who has a true appreciation for romance that is soul-stirringly Christian, not just clean or sweet, but which contains truths that will inspire and encourage as well as entertain with swoon-worthy romance.


I wrote...

The Breakup Project

By Carolyn Miller,

Book cover of The Breakup Project

What is my book about?

New Year. New Resolution. New Romance? What happens when the best-laid plans break a friendship? As the twin sister of hockey’s hottest forward, romance-loving Bree Karlsson is used to being ignored, leading to a New Year’s resolution to not date any athlete in her attempt to find Mr. Right. But what happens when the man who might prove to be her personal Mr. Darcy is her brother’s hockey-playing best friend?

This friends-to-more romance has plenty of heart, humor, and swoon-worthy kisses in this first book of the Original Six, a sweet Christian contemporary romance series.

Epic and Romance

By W. P. (William Paton) Ker,

Book cover of Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature

This book, from a fin de siècle Scotsman, is a classic of literature in its own right. It contains a perfectly brilliant reading of the sagas as well as other works of medieval literature. It has never been surpassed and is perhaps unsurpassable. Every sentence is an elegant gem, with one nonobvious insight after another. He just nails it. Ker reminds you that literary criticism need not be pretentious and badly written as it so often is. Treat yourself. 


Who am I?

Purely by accident I stumbled on to a 1961 Penguin translation of Njáls saga and it was a transformative moment in my life. I signed up for Old Norse the next term, and never looked back. The sagas were incomparably intelligent in matters of psychology and politics and interpersonal interaction. And then told with such wit. How could the utter miracle of the fluorescence of so much pure genius on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere not grab you? And what confluence of friendly stars would allow me to spend a life teaching and writing about them in a law school no less, paid as if I were a real lawyer? 


I wrote...

Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

By William Ian Miller,

Book cover of Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

What is my book about?

A close reading of one of the best known of the Icelandic sagas, showing its moral, political, and psychological sophistication. The saga deals with finely layered irony of who can justifiably hit whom for what, It does this with cool nuance, also taking on matters of torture and pain-infliction as a means of generating fellow-feeling. How does one measure pain and humiliation so as to get even, to get back to equal? They come up with ingenious ways of handling the issue of ‘getting even’. This book flies in the face of all the previous critical literature which, with very few exceptions, imposes simplistic readings on this very subtle saga. A translation of the saga is provided.

Njal's Saga

By Magnus and Palsson (translator),

Book cover of Njal's Saga

This is by all estimation the greatest of the sagas. I would even claim that its excellence allows it to be fairly mentioned in the same breath as the Iliad, Don Quixote, and the tragedies of Shakespeare. It is quite complex and I would suggest, if I am allowed to, my Why is Your Axe Bloody? (2014) as a guide. But the present Penguin translation is a travesty and should be avoided. The best English translation available is the older Penguin translated by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson (1961) and still available from various used booksellers online. Their translation is as good as a translation can get. Hrafnkels saga is a perfect entry to the sagas because it is short and compact and prepares one for the complexity of Njáls saga


Who am I?

Purely by accident I stumbled on to a 1961 Penguin translation of Njáls saga and it was a transformative moment in my life. I signed up for Old Norse the next term, and never looked back. The sagas were incomparably intelligent in matters of psychology and politics and interpersonal interaction. And then told with such wit. How could the utter miracle of the fluorescence of so much pure genius on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere not grab you? And what confluence of friendly stars would allow me to spend a life teaching and writing about them in a law school no less, paid as if I were a real lawyer? 


I wrote...

Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

By William Ian Miller,

Book cover of Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

What is my book about?

A close reading of one of the best known of the Icelandic sagas, showing its moral, political, and psychological sophistication. The saga deals with finely layered irony of who can justifiably hit whom for what, It does this with cool nuance, also taking on matters of torture and pain-infliction as a means of generating fellow-feeling. How does one measure pain and humiliation so as to get even, to get back to equal? They come up with ingenious ways of handling the issue of ‘getting even’. This book flies in the face of all the previous critical literature which, with very few exceptions, imposes simplistic readings on this very subtle saga. A translation of the saga is provided.

The Growth of the Medieval Icelandic Sagas (1180–1280)

By Theodore M. Andersson,

Book cover of The Growth of the Medieval Icelandic Sagas (1180–1280)

This is from the master of saga studies of the past half-century. His knowledge of Old Norse literature is unsurpassed. He takes you through how the miracle of the sagas came about. Moreover, he writes well. His prose is clear and elegant. I also wish to steer readers to a perfect gem of an article Andersson wrote that actually manages to say something quite new about the more than a century-old fight in saga studies as to whether the sagas owe their excellence to an oral culture or to a written one: “Sea Traffic in the Sagas: Quantitative Reflections” in The Creation of Medieval Northern Europe: Essays in Honor of Sverre Bagge, edited by Leidulf Melve and Sigbjørn Sønnesyn (Oslo: Dreyer, 2012), 156–75.


Who am I?

Purely by accident I stumbled on to a 1961 Penguin translation of Njáls saga and it was a transformative moment in my life. I signed up for Old Norse the next term, and never looked back. The sagas were incomparably intelligent in matters of psychology and politics and interpersonal interaction. And then told with such wit. How could the utter miracle of the fluorescence of so much pure genius on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere not grab you? And what confluence of friendly stars would allow me to spend a life teaching and writing about them in a law school no less, paid as if I were a real lawyer? 


I wrote...

Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

By William Ian Miller,

Book cover of Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

What is my book about?

A close reading of one of the best known of the Icelandic sagas, showing its moral, political, and psychological sophistication. The saga deals with finely layered irony of who can justifiably hit whom for what, It does this with cool nuance, also taking on matters of torture and pain-infliction as a means of generating fellow-feeling. How does one measure pain and humiliation so as to get even, to get back to equal? They come up with ingenious ways of handling the issue of ‘getting even’. This book flies in the face of all the previous critical literature which, with very few exceptions, imposes simplistic readings on this very subtle saga. A translation of the saga is provided.

From Gang Leader to the Lord's Anointed

By Sverre Bagge,

Book cover of From Gang Leader to the Lord's Anointed: Kingship in Sverris Saga and Hakonar Saga Hakonarsonar (The Viking Collection, Studies in Northern Civilization, Vol 8)

An excellent account of this supremely intelligent Machiavellian rogue and wit of a Norwegian king by the eminent Norwegian historian and namesake Sverre Bagge. King Sverrir’s saga was written by an Icelander with the king looking over his shoulder and apparently dictating portions of it. Nothing quite captures a medieval insurgency any better than this saga when read through the lens of Bagge’s astute commentary. 


Who am I?

Purely by accident I stumbled on to a 1961 Penguin translation of Njáls saga and it was a transformative moment in my life. I signed up for Old Norse the next term, and never looked back. The sagas were incomparably intelligent in matters of psychology and politics and interpersonal interaction. And then told with such wit. How could the utter miracle of the fluorescence of so much pure genius on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere not grab you? And what confluence of friendly stars would allow me to spend a life teaching and writing about them in a law school no less, paid as if I were a real lawyer? 


I wrote...

Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

By William Ian Miller,

Book cover of Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

What is my book about?

A close reading of one of the best known of the Icelandic sagas, showing its moral, political, and psychological sophistication. The saga deals with finely layered irony of who can justifiably hit whom for what, It does this with cool nuance, also taking on matters of torture and pain-infliction as a means of generating fellow-feeling. How does one measure pain and humiliation so as to get even, to get back to equal? They come up with ingenious ways of handling the issue of ‘getting even’. This book flies in the face of all the previous critical literature which, with very few exceptions, imposes simplistic readings on this very subtle saga. A translation of the saga is provided.

Men, Women, and Chain Saws

By Carol J. Clover,

Book cover of Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film

Clover’s book is a cult classic, but Clover is also one of the leading saga scholars of the past half-century and as she notes her insights into and reads of these horror films owes an incalculable debt to her knowledge of the sagas. 

I cannot refrain from recommending an article by Heather O'Donoghue--"What has Baldr to do with Lamech?" The lethal shot of a blind man in Old Norse myth and Jewish exegetical traditions Medium Aevum 72 (2003, 82-107). I loved it when I first read it. It is wonderfully learned and for those who are equally captivated by the Norse world and the tough world of the Hebrew Bible, the piece is a perfect example of penetrating scholarship and insight.


Who am I?

Purely by accident I stumbled on to a 1961 Penguin translation of Njáls saga and it was a transformative moment in my life. I signed up for Old Norse the next term, and never looked back. The sagas were incomparably intelligent in matters of psychology and politics and interpersonal interaction. And then told with such wit. How could the utter miracle of the fluorescence of so much pure genius on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere not grab you? And what confluence of friendly stars would allow me to spend a life teaching and writing about them in a law school no less, paid as if I were a real lawyer? 


I wrote...

Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

By William Ian Miller,

Book cover of Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices

What is my book about?

A close reading of one of the best known of the Icelandic sagas, showing its moral, political, and psychological sophistication. The saga deals with finely layered irony of who can justifiably hit whom for what, It does this with cool nuance, also taking on matters of torture and pain-infliction as a means of generating fellow-feeling. How does one measure pain and humiliation so as to get even, to get back to equal? They come up with ingenious ways of handling the issue of ‘getting even’. This book flies in the face of all the previous critical literature which, with very few exceptions, imposes simplistic readings on this very subtle saga. A translation of the saga is provided.

A Little Life

By Hanya Yanagihara,

Book cover of A Little Life

This book will have you falling in love with, empathising, and aching for the main protagonist, Jude, who goes through more in his life than anyone should – and yet it is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read. One of my favourite parts of this book is when one of the characters, Willem, says that he’s not gay, he’s merely in love with Jude. The character portrayals in this book are some of the best I’ve ever come across. It’s a hardened person who won’t feel socked in the chest after reading this book. I read it twice, even though it ripped my heart out and tore it in two.


Who am I?

It may sound odd, but I am a straight female and not LGBTQI at all! However I read widely, and this includes stories of love of all kinds, both gay and straight. I particularly enjoy stories of human connection, especially if they contain romance, but that also grips me with stunning prose, dialogue, and strong characterisation.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I was qualified to write this, but then I decided that love was universal and I knew how to write about that. I chose male characters for Invisibly Breathing because I know what it’s like to be attracted to a male, and sought advice from gay friends. 


I wrote...

Invisibly Breathing

By Eileen Merriman,

Book cover of Invisibly Breathing

What is my book about?

A moving story about unconventional love, bullying, and being true to yourself. "I wish I wasn’t the weirdest sixteen-year-old guy in the universe." Felix would love to have been a number. Numbers have superpowers and they’re safe – any problem they might throw up can be solved. People are so much harder to cope with. At least that’s how it seems until Bailey Hunter arrives at school. Bailey has a stutter, but he can make friends and he’s good at judo. And Bailey seems to have noticed Felix: "there’s something about him that keeps drawing me in." Both boys find they’re living in a world where they can’t trust anyone, but might they be able to trust each other, with their secrets, their differences, themselves?

A Spark of Light

By Jodi Picoult,

Book cover of A Spark of Light

This is a page-turner of a novel about a shooting at a women’s reproductive health services clinic in Mississippi, where the 15-year-old daughter of the hostage negotiator is caught inside the clinic. A variety of people are trapped inside the clinic for hours that day. The shooter, the daughter, the hostage negotiator, the abortion doctor, a pro-life protestor who was spying inside the clinic, and a woman who just had an abortion in the clinic–their characters and motivations are all very understandable to me, which makes the tension about this horrible situation that much more riveting. 


Who am I?

My great-grand aunt Blanche Ames was a co-founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts. My grandmother marched in birth control parades with Blanche. My mother stood in the Planned Parenthood booth at the Minnesota State Fair and responded calmly to those who shouted and spit at her. As the lead author and associate editor of the monumental reference work Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States, which helped to launch the field of women’s history in the 1970s, I learned to love American women’s history, and I’ve always loved writing. Lemons in the Garden of Love is my third award-winning historical novel.


I wrote...

Lemons in the Garden of Love

By Ames Sheldon,

Book cover of Lemons in the Garden of Love

What is my book about?

Seeking a topic for her doctoral dissertation in 1977, Cassie Lyman finds a trove of suffrage cartoons, diaries, and letters left behind by Kate Easton, founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916. On her way to her sister’s shotgun wedding, Cassie soon discovers that she and Kate are closely related—and they have more in common than she could have imagined.

Lemons in the Garden of Love won the Firebird Book Award for Current Events.

The Girl

By 055311901X,

Book cover of The Girl

I read all of Catherine Cookson’s novels at a much too-young age, having “borrowed” them from my mom’s bookshelf when she wasn’t looking. I was immediately hooked. So many of Cookson’s books, not just The Girl, pit the wealthy, landed class against their poorer servants, and this theme made a deep impression on me. In fact, I think that Cookson, along with Dickens, probably had the most influence on my personal writing style.  


Who am I?

As the author of a historical/mystery/romance series that has won over sixty international awards in multiple categories, I’m attracted to books that cannot be pinned to one genre. I love sweeping sagas with elements of all three, perhaps because I was so immersed in classic literature as a kid and fascinated by stories of the past. I suspect I may have once lived in the 1930s and, having yet to discover a handy time machine lying around, I have resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting myself back there. I am, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music. 


I wrote...

A Girl Like You

By Michelle Cox,

Book cover of A Girl Like You

What is my book about?

Henrietta Von Harmon works as a 26 girl at a corner bar on Chicago’s northwest side. It’s 1935, but things still aren’t looking up since the big crash and her father’s subsequent suicide, leaving Henrietta to care for her antagonistic mother and younger siblings.

In desperation, Henrietta takes a job as a taxi dancer at a local dance hall, and just when she’s beginning to enjoy herself, the floor matron turns up dead. When aloof Inspector Clive Howard appears on the scene, Henrietta agrees to go undercover for him and is plunged into Chicago’s grittier underworld. While she attempts to uncover a potential serial killer, little does she know that the Inspector is keeping his secrets of his own.

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