The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson has got to be the best historical fiction book I’ve never heard of. I saw this novel on a free shelf and picked it up by chance and I’m lucky I did. The book was originally published in Swedish in 1945, but has since been translated into 23 languages and even adapted into a British movie of the same name in 1964 starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poiter.
The Long Ships is an terrifically well-written historical novel about a group of Vikings in 10th Century Europe. Filled with likeable anti-heroes the story primarily focuses on Orm Tostesson the son of a Viking chieftain. The boy’s mother is protective and conceives of elaborate plans to keep him at home while her husband and other sons go a-viking, but Orm is actually abducted by a group of raiders one night setting off a long series of adventures.
The book itself is grand in scale both in geography and time. From the Norse Sea and Scandinavia the characters travel to Spain and the Mediterranean before returning home years later as rich and experienced men. Other voyages take then to England, Ireland, France, the Baltic States, and Kiev.
The Long Ships is incredibly entertaining and filled with fantastic dialogue, unique characters, and fascinating plot lines. If you are a fan of historical fiction, this is a must read.
Ryan King is a career army officer with multiple combat tours who continues to serve in the military. He has lived, worked, and traveled throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. He writes post-apocalyptic, dystopian, thriller, horror, and action short stories, short novels, and novels.