The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "The Vision"

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fourth (point five) season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on Twitter, #ShieldGeeks where and Sandi and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We’ll follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!


Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

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Lissa: This episode wasn't quite as strong as the one before it. It was sort of a "getting ready" episode, like packing for a vacation, turning off all the lights, getting the pets to the kennel... that sort of thing.

We begin with Ragnar in Kattegat, walking through the marketplace. The hustle and bustle reminds us what a busy place it is. One of the traders drives a cart through the streets. Its cargo is a live emu.
Sandi:Yes, you rather liked the emu! Really, it spoke well to the internationality of Kattegat, but then we'd also seen that before, with a host of culturally diverse people selling their wares in the market square.

Lissa: Ragnar stops to speak to a man he knows. He tells him he's getting a crew together to go back to raid in England. The man draws back with a smile and says he's a farmer. Just like his brother was, and his brother went to England to live in one of Ragnar's settlements. He found out that his brother had been slaughtered years after it happened, but Ragnar had known all along, hadn't he? He leans forward and spits in Ragnar's face.

Ragnar stands there for a moment, and a small smile ghosts across his lips. He thanks the man for his time and walks away. At his back, the man shouts that no one loves Ragnar any longer, not even the gods.

Sandi: ​That was expected. We needed to see this kind of response. The interesting thing, to me, is that there weren't more Kattegatians (I can't call them villagers anymore, can I?) ​who were up in Ragnar's face about the Wessex slaughter/failure/tragedy. But still, note that Ragnar can walk about in Kattegat without being on the defensive. He isn't otherwise assaulted, and people make way for him. He is still Ragnar, and that name means something. Even his sons, who might not all appreciate him entirely, nor agree with him, bank on that name.

Lissa: Ragnar speaks with Björn about his plans. It's a sad exchange, in a way, because Ragnar can see how the Seer's prophecy is coming true before his eyes... Björn has a great destiny before him, and seems destined to go on to greater things than Ragnar ever achieved. Ragnar tells him he needs ships. Björn agrees to give him some of the fleet he's assembled to go to the Mediterranean. It had to be very galling for Ragnar to have to go to his son - hat in hand, so to speak - and ask for ships that were built by the man who used to craft ships for Ragnar.

Björn mentions having to pass by Rollo's lands, and says he intends to see how much of a Viking his uncle still is.

Sandi: ​Galling, yes, but I think too that Ragnar is proud. I mean, he raised Björn until Björn was granted his armband. ​He and Lagertha created a strong son who is now doing what men do: make their own way. And even if he does become bigger and better than his father, Björn is also carrying Ragnar's name with him as he does so. It's hard for the older generation, too, to make way for the younger, but it is the natural way of things and a Viking will bow to that. They'll all meet in Valhalla and share stories one day, would be a way to acclimate himself to that.

Lissa:  At the midday meal, Aslaug tells Ivar she's happy to see him with Margrethe. She tells all her boys they should be having children.

Sandi: ​Odd, but I don't really see Aslaug as a grandmother. She might be! ​

Lissa: Ubbe blithely says he probably already has a few and the boys laugh. But Aslaug insists they should marry and father legitimate heirs. Sigurd asks his mother if she married Ragnar because she loved him.

Aslaug replies tartly that love has little to do with it, but when he presses, she snaps that she did love him.

Sandi: ​This is odd, in the cultural context. A marriage in this society would not be based upon love, as a rule. A marriage was most often an arrangement between families, for the better fortune of them all in terms of land, influence, wealth, or all of the above. Marrying for love would be a foreign notion. Why would her sons even inquire about it? I could just slide this into the Boot Sole File.​

And Aslaug married Ragnar because she was bearing his child. I mean, it's not a romantic story at that point, not really. Perhaps, though, Aslaug is trying to keep a legend alive with her sons. They are her closest companions at this juncture.

Lissa:  He then brings up the rumor that Aslaug bewitched Ragnar into marrying her.
Ivar starts to defend her, Sigurd wonders aloud if she loved anyone except for Harbard. Ivar says he knows Aslaug always loved him. Sigurd retorts that Aslaug felt pity for him - like the rest of them do, but sometimes they wish that she'd left Ivar to the wolves.

Sandi: ​Sigurd really takes the proverbial bull by the horns, here. Ivar is defensive of Aslaug—for good reason—and the sequence is indicative of the long-festering unease/antipathy that has developed between the two brothers over the years they've lived together.​

Lissa: Ivar tries to attack him, but he has to drag himself along the furniture to reach him. He finally gets close, and Sigurd jerks away the chair he's using for balance. Ivar falls to the floor as Sigurd walks away. He crawls after his brother crying out in rage as Aslaug tries to soothe him.

Sandi: ​Sigurd was not playing fair, but then I imagine he's seen Ivar favored during his whole life. And Ivar really let his guard down, or was overwhelmed by his feelings, here. To show so much emotion, genuine emotion, makes him vulnerable. ​

Lissa: That evening, there's a feast in the great hall.

Sandi: ​Gotta say I enjoyed seeing that. This is a different kind of feast than we've perhaps seen in a while. Good to see all the Northmen in their fantastic costumes (History Channel continues to impress in the wardrobe department) and to have a feel for the atmosphere of the Great Hall.​

Lissa: Harald and his brother Halfdan are in attendance - they're going on Björn's journey.

Björn mentions Harald's old ambition to become King of Norway, but Harald says he doesn't think it's possible to depose Ragnar. Which is a bit odd, since Ragnar is obviously reduced to begging his own child for the boats he needs for a small raid, but perhaps Harald was just being diplomatic, considering his current plans.

He mentions how tall the Ragnarssons are, and Ivar says he's tall when he stands up. Harald is a bit - well a lot - patronizing when he says that he bets Ivar wishes he could go with them. Ivar tells him to go to hell.

Sandi: ​Ivar has to be seething, here. Regarding Harald, I think he might be a bit behind the times, perhaps, in terms of the current political climate. Unless he has spies?

Lissa: Lagertha enters with Joan Jett at her side.

Joan seems very popular amongst the people of Kattegat.

Sandi: ​​This is a bit surprising. Lagertha resides in Hedeby, does she not? But Lagertha is a woman of substance, a jarl, and if Joan Jett is seen as her Current S.O., then it is likely that others court her for her favor. Even those who aren't beholden to Hedeby in any way.

Lissa: Aslaug makes her way over and Lagertha tells her that since their sons are going on a journey together, they should both ask the gods for their blessing.

Aslaug says they should make a sacrifice. Jointly, Lagertha tells her. Aslaug reminds her that she is the queen of Kattegat. Lagertha replies she never forgets anything.

Sandi: ​Aren't they so polite, here? *slanted smile* I like the edge that the actresses gave the scene. The time was short, but the animosity was well-played.​

Lissa: After the feast, Margrethe runs outside and pleads with Sigurd for protection from Ivar. She tells him that Ivar tried to kill her, and she tells him Ivar's terrible secret, that he cannot pleasure a woman. She begs Sigurd not to tell anyone. Suuure he won't.
He tells his brothers immediately, of course.

Sandi: ​​I was making all kinds of rude sounds during this sequence. What was she thinking? Here I thought Margrethe (Hey, I went to the IMDb page to make sure I spelled it properly!) had a sense of self-preservation. She had taken time to connect (cough!) with each of Aslaug's sons. And she had used her wits to save her life when it seemed certain Ivar would kill her. So why on earth did she go to the one brother she knew had a serious hate-on for Ivar? She acknowledged that Ivar was crazy, we all know he's murderous (has been since childhood), so why do this? I was flummoxed. It does, though, make for more drama.

Lissa: The sacrifice ceremony begins. As with the other Viking ceremonies we've seen, this one is beautifully - reverentially - cinematic. Aslaug's face is painted red and black. She slices each of the animal sacrifices and drains their blood into a basin.

As Floki did long ago, Ivar approaches the basin and strokes the blood over his face.

Sandi: ​They really do give good ceremony on this show. This one is darker than previous sacrifices we've seen, merely in terms of the time of day and such. It makes everything smoky, more potently ominous.​

Lissa: Aslaug appears to be as high as a kite, her eyes rolling back into her head and her lashes fluttering, but Lagertha leans down to whisper in her ear. "I want you to know that I can never forgive you for taking away my husband and my world. Look what you’ve done with it. You call yourself Queen, but you will never be Queen in Kattegat.” She flicks some of the blood in a dismissive manner in Aslaug's face.

Sandi: ​I honestly thought Lagertha had sliced off a piece of Aslaug's ear, there. It would have worked for me.
Lissa: Ivar follows his father out into the hills where Ragnar digs up his hoard of treasure from the earth, intending to use it as a way of buying himself men for the voyage since no one seems willing to volunteer.
Sandi: ​Ragnar teases his son in a not-too-kind manner, calling him his "crippled son" and so on, but Ivar seems to find this as a form of affection. And, to be honest, it likely is. Ragnar loves his children. It is one of the defining characteristics that continues to endear him to us even when he's making us crazy.​

Lissa: Ivar picks up a coin and turns it in his fingers. He points to the face on the front. "Who is this?" Ragnar tells him its King Ecbert, and Ivar asks if he can keep the coin. Ragnar closes Ivar's fingers over it.

Sandi: ​And here we have more from the Wisdom of Ivar, for which he will become famous. Again, kudos to the History Channel for their attention to detail.​

Lissa: Ivar warns him that buying men will only get him the dregs.

In town, Ragnar sits at a table, handing out his treasure to a long line of people who've come to take it.

Ubbe tries to stop him, says he's embarrassing himself, but Ragnar flings it out into the crowd, saying he doesn't care.

Sandi: ​A king is expected to share from his wealth, but it is tradition that the sharing is done amongst those who have shared in the work. All those on a raid, from the warriors to the navigators to the shipwrights, get gold. But here? These men haven't worked with Ragnar. He hasn't chosen them. It is a lowering thing for Ragnar to give his gold away. "Embarrassing" indeed.​

Lissa: In preparation for the voyage, Ivar has iron crutches made. He's able to "walk" with his arms alone, dragging his legs along.

Sandi: ​I discussed this with my spouse, as I thought iron was not perhaps the best choice for a seafarer. But Spousal Unit is a craftsman and he reminded me that the Vikings would have known that regular wooden crutches would be soaked repeatedly and swell and become unusable unless it was coated in pitch—at which point it would become flammable.

Lissa: The swelling of the wood is an excellent point. Iron really would be more durable and easier to maintain in sea-faring conditions. If he kept the metal well-greased and used a pumice stone to remove any rust that began to build, he could probably keep them in good condition for years.

Sandi: ​It pays to have to connections, for those iron crutches would have been costly.​

Lissa: He trips and falls at one point, and his brothers start over to help him up. Aslaug - very correctly - stops them, and Ivar pulls his own way up.

Ragnar smacks him on the shoulder and tells him nonchalantly that they have a ship to board.

Sandi: ​​I appreciate that Ragnar handled this so casually. It could have been a lot uglier.​

Lissa: That night, Ivar creeps to Margrethe's bed. She cries out in terror when he puts a hand over her mouth. He tells her he knows she told his brothers. She swears she didn't and pleads for her life. Ivar tells her he believes her, and he just wants to lie next to her.

Sandi: ​Ha! I bet she didn't get any sleep that night . . .​

Ragnar comes to visit Aslaug as she's removing her hairpins to go to bed. He gently caresses her neck as he speaks. “Love was not what brought us together. But you endured me. You suffered my words and my neglect. And you never turned our sons against me.” He's grateful for that. Aslaug's eyes fill with tears.

Sandi: ​​Ivar asked when Ragnar was going to see Aslaug, and here he does. The "farewell" visit such as he made to the other people in his life. ​

Lissa: In her own bed, Aslaug has a vision of Ivar floating over the sea, and his limp form swept up by a tornado of water. She tries to run into the sea and save him.

In the morning, she warns him if he goes on this journey, he will drown.

 He tells her he finally has a chance to prove himself to the gods, and that one day at his father's side - as a true Viking man - is worth a lifetime of pity. She cannot tell him what to do. He's going and doesn't care if he dies. Aslaug kisses his head and tells him to go.

Sandi: ​This was a GREAT scene. The episode is titled "The Vision" but I think this moment is more indicative.​

Lissa: At the docks, Lagertha has a tender goodbye with Björn.
Torvi tells Björn that he cannot come back without winning glory because what will she tell their children of him, the great Björn Ironsides? "Tell them I loved them," Björn says.

Sandi: ​Torvi seems to really lay it out for him, here. I don't know how much was spousal-teasing and how much was sincere "With your shield or on it!" Spartan-wife/mom thing, but she seemed quite determined.​

Lissa: The small fleet sails, only a handful of boats with Ragnar, the rest with Björn.

Sandi: ​​It really is a small fleet, as well. Not an impressive flotilla, but just a few ships. Well, that is what was requested, no? ​

Lissa: As they sail away, Ragnar notices Ivar clinging to the side of the ship. Ivar confesses that he's terrified of water. Ragnar sits down beside him and tells him there's worse ways to die than drowning. Ivar retches over the side, apparently seasick as well as afraid.

Sandi: ​​Being terrified of the water makes sense for a man that would have to rely solely on his arms to keep himself safe in the ocean. Ivar is, though, determined to win his sea-legs and Ragnar lets him.​

Lissa: Ragnar's new men are obviously not sailors. Their oars only shallowly dip into the water as they head out to sea. It's gonna be a long voyage, it seems!

Sandi: ​This was a great detail. As Ivar predicted, Ragnar got the dregs to crew his longships. Older men. Weaker. Perhaps even a bit lazy. Not determined warriors. Even in Season One, the older warriors had more to them than this bunch.​
Lissa: They're beset by a storm, as Aslaug predicted. The men are being thrown from the vessel by the massive waves. Ragnar grabs Ivar and tosses him over his shoulder as he struggles toward the mast. He lashes Ivar to the mast with rope, and as Ivar roars in fear, Ragnar puts his hand over his mouth. He meets Ivar's eyes, and Ivar calms.

Sandi: ​​Ragnar saves his son here, and it's another good moment. Ivar will have learned much, I'm thinking, during this part of his life.​

Lissa: While this is happening, Aslaug is rocking in her room, her face contorted in agony. Her lap is soaked with blood. We had a lot of discussion last night over what we were seeing. In the Sagas, aslaug has a vision of her sons dying and is so agonized that she weeps blood, but this appeared to be more along the lines of a miscarriage. But we haven't seen Aslaug with a lover since the time jump, or any indications that she's pregnant.

A massive wave overturns their ship. Ragnar struggles through the water to try to untie his son. The last scene we see is Ivar going limp.

Sandi: ​We know, though, that Ivar lives a long life, and is a warrior of renown. So one can only imagine here that Ragnar saves his son again and brings him to safety in some way. Unless a supernatural agent steps in, that is likely to be the case.

It is somehow fitting that here, Ragnar is saving the life that he was prepared to let end when the lad was an infant. ​And that the mighty king is struggling in a storm on the way back to a village that he's known has been gone for a long time, with only a ragtag crew.

As you said, Lissa, a "preparing to go" episode. I am hoping the next one, "Two Journeys" according to IMDb, will have a landing in Wessex and a journey for Björn. 

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for another episode!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4
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DOMINION Release Day & #Giveaway #PostApoc #EOTWAWKI #Romance

Release day is here, and DOMINION is upon us!


A generation has passed since the pandemic known only as the Infection ended the world as we know it. In a little town in the Appalachian Mountains, Taylor has known only a harsh and brutal struggle for survival in a land littered with the rusted-out remnants of a lost world. By day, she labors in a coal mine. In the evenings, she tends a secret collection of beehives, and uses the honey to pay for lessons in survival skills, such as hunting, fishing and collecting herbs. Her home is a single room in a crumbling old motel, and her only companion is a pet box tortoise named Go she’s had since she was a child.
When her town is destroyed by a vicious gang of raiders known as the Nine, Taylor escapes with Dylan, the son of the mayor. Their only plan is to head south and escape the Nine’s vast territory, avoiding areas contaminated by meltdowns and industrial pollution where mysterious illnesses plague the residents.
Dylan has never known hunger or hardship and struggles to learn survival skills. He’s never known a woman like Taylor either. He tries to pay her back by teaching her to read and telling her the stories passed down from the world of Before.
They certainly didn’t plan on falling in love. Taylor fights it every step of the way, because in her world, any emotional attachment is dangerous. She’s been taught since childhood that love slows you down, makes you weak. But the feelings growing between them cannot be denied.
Taylor finds herself slowly breaking every one of her hard-learned rules of survival. She discovers that perhaps some of those things she’s always fought to avoid are the very things that make life worth living.
. . . And death shall have no dominion . . .”

To celebrate, we're giving away a $10 Amazon Giftcard!

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I always enjoy finding another novel about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This one intrigued me because it was told from a different perspective, from the heirs of the Plantagenet line.

The Jewels of Warwick is an alternative history of the reign of Henry VIII, a different version of the tale in which Henry had a life-long companion, a mistress who was the true "wife"of his heart.

The "jewels" in question are two sisters, the only living heirs of Richard III. At a young age, both are subjected to the trauma of seeing their father, Edward Plantagenet 17th Earl of Warwick, dragged away in front of them to his execution. His crime, of course, is his bloodline and his claim to the throne.

Neither of the sisters can ever forget that bloodright claim to the crown, of course, but for Topaz, it's particularly stinging. She teaches her son to despise the Tudors for "stealing" the throne. As I was reading this, I flinched, for every word he spoke was treason, deadly if overheard by the wrong ears.

Amethyst, on the other hand, falls in love with King Henry. Like most sociopaths, Henry could be extremely charming when he chose to be - but also incredibly cruel when thwarted in any way from getting what he wanted. Henry proves to be a difficult man to love as the years pass. In one scene, he literally froths at the mouth with rage as he signs a death warrant, consigning his own friends to die with the victim in order to make the story more convincing.

At one point, he says to her, "I am troubled and need to speak with someone who I believe has guided me a great deal through my life. I need to rid myself of hauntings, memories, the specters of my dead wives." Amethyst serves not only as a lover to him, but a conscience, a sounding board, and a counselor, even when he chooses to ignore her advice. There's a trust there that builds between life-long partners. Though both of them married others, they are bound.

Amethyst's loyal heart is torn between love for Henry and love for her headstrong sister, who is hell-bent on reclaiming the throne that is rightfully hers. She builds an army and marches on Henry's forces. This was another point where I cringed, wanting to shout at Topaz, "Think of your family! Remember what Henry did to Countess Pole!"

Defeat is inevitable, of course, as is Henry's vicious revenge. Amethyst is put in the position many people during Henry's reign experienced: pleading for a loved one's life. Henry's mercy was often in short supply, conditional, and apt to be rescinded at a moment's notice.

As a fan of Anne Boleyn, I would have liked to have seen more of her in this novel, but this isn't the story of the six wives. It's the story of Amethyst and her struggle to survive and understand the man to whom she has pledged her heart and loyalty, though he's extremely difficult to love. With age, Henry grows more erratic, and it seems Amethyst often fears him as much as she loves him. It's an inherently unequal relationship, when one's lover can have you beheaded on a whim, and Amethyst knows that her sister is off at Warwick, planning treason.

Henry's mercurial nature, I thought, was depicted quite well in this novel. With Amethyst, he's sometimes playful, tender, and generous, but his temper is uncertain at best. I thought for her, it was much like lying next to a tiger - only half-tame, and knowing its wild nature might assert itself at any moment. She loves him, but also fears him. It's unhealthy and unstable, but that was life in Henry's reign.

Conflicting loyalties, murder, betrayal, and sin... All just another day in the court of Henry VIII!

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About Diana

My passion for history and travel has taken me to every locale of my stories, set in Medieval and Renaissance England, Egypt, the Mediterranean, colonial Virginia, New England, and New York. My urban fantasy romance, FAKIN’ IT, won a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. I’m a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society and the Aaron Burr Association. I live on Cape Cod with my husband Chris. In my spare time, I bicycle, golf, play my piano and devour books of any genre. 

Visit Me 

on Twitter @DianaLRubino.

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A Conversation with Diana Rubino, Author of THE JEWELS OF WARWICK

There's nothing more fun than finding a fellow Tudor buff! I had a great conversation with fellow author Diana Rubino about her novel, THE JEWELS OF WARWICK, which tells the story of Henry VIII's reign through the eyes of his mistress, a descendant of the Plantagenet line.

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Henry VIII had six wives and many more mistresses, but Amethyst of Warwick was the love of his life. So why didn’t he ever marry her? He was either married, or she was married—to a despicable old wretch he foisted upon her as a punishment.

The other Jewel of Warwick is Amethyst’s sister Topaz, a spitfire who makes his live a living hell, only because she’s trying to seize his throne. She has a credible reason—Henry’s father killed her father, a rightful heir to the throne, to get him out of the way. As the Jewels grew up without their father, Topaz mourned his wasted life. Now she wants what’s rightfully hers. 
Amethyst remains a faithful supporter, confidante, lover, and friend, through Henry's tragic marriages and England's break with Rome. 
Until the night Henry dies in her arms, she is torn between her love for him and for her sister. Amethyst’s devotion to Henry creates a painful rift between the sisters that remains unresolved until the story’s end. While Amethyst lives a comfortable but troublesome life at court as the king's mistress, Topaz raises an army and goes into battle with the king. Forced to defend his crown, he imprisons Topaz for treason. Amethyst begs the king to release her, but he dies while she's still imprisoned. 
Henry's heir, young King Edward, sets Topaz free, but banishes her to the New World. She embarks on a voyage with explorer Sebastian Cabot, hoping to colonize her own monarch‑free realm, in what will someday be New England.

We had a chat about our mutual passion for all things Tudor. Check it out!

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Lissa: What was your introduction to the world of the Tudors? For me, it was finding Margaret George’s Autobiography of Henry VIII in my high school library. That’s what made me fall in love with the Tudor period.

Diana: I’ve been interested in the Tudors since I’m a kid. My mother was a voracious reader and lover of history, and I don’t know which particular book it was, but I do remember reading A CROWN FOR ELIZABETH by Mary Luke when I was in high school or younger. That’s probably what got me started. When I was 12, I went to see Anne of the Thousand Days in the movies. After that I was seriously hooked.

Lissa: I adored Bujold’s Anne, probably the closest screen depiction – in my opinion – to what the real Anne Boleyn was like. I wish a scene like Anne’s passionate speech to Henry had actually happened. And I think the real Anne would have agreed with this film that her blood was “well spent” if meant the reign of Elizabeth.

Diana: I’d just read BLAZE WYNDHAM by Bertrice Small, a novel where Henry has a fictional mistress. I wanted to emulate that. But to give it some more depth, I had two heroines who are sisters. I made them Plantagenet heirs because the older sister Topaz believes she’s the rightful queen; her father, Edward Plantagenet, should have been next in line for the throne, but the Tudors kept him sequestered in Sheriff Hutton Castle, out of the way, all his life. The other sister, Amethyst, becomes Henry’s mistress. Two very different sisters. 

Lissa: From a modern viewpoint and knowing how the rebellions against Henry turned out, I was groaning when I saw the direction Topaz was heading for. Do you think her decision to rebel was ultimately selfish, knowing what happened to traitors’ families during Henry’s reign? (Look at what happened to poor Margaret Pole when he couldn’t reach her son!)

Diana: She looks selfish from our modern perspective, but back then, mindsets were much different. Many people risked their lives for what they believed was their birthright, or went into battle for the faction they supported. She was adamant that she was the rightful queen, as the daughter of Edward Plantagenet, who she believes also got cheated out of the crown. She was willing to risk her life for that, and went into battle with Henry for her cause.  

Lissa: In your novel, Amethyst spends years as Henry’s lover. Do you think he was actually capable of love? I tend to view him as a pure sociopath, incapable of ordinary human attachment.

Diana: You’re right about that; I don’t believe he was capable of true love. He only cared about himself; women were mere props to him. When he was finished with them, he discarded them—and you know the brutal ways he did that, with Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard! I believe he truly cared for Amethyst to the extent of his ability; he certainly was infatuated with her, and they had great chemistry. But he wasn’t in love with her, and I don’t believe he ever was in love with anyone in real life. With Anne Boleyn, it was obsession more than love or caring.

Lissa: Do you feel Henry VIII had any positives as a king or as a person?

Diana: As a king, he created an army to keep England safe, implemented peace treaties through Cardinal Wolsey, and brought England out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance, as a patron of the arts and music, his interest in astronomy, and in Greek mythology. He made the English language much more widespread, with the first Bible in English.

Lissa: You’re very kind in your assessment of his virtues. You’re right that he was intellectually curious and he encouraged the arts. His patronage of Holbein was something to be lauded, because he certainly elevated English portraiture art.

I tend to give more credit to Anne for the development of the English Bible. She was the religious reformer, the one with the fervent faith. Her idea was to use the money from the dissolved monasteries to fund free schools for the common people so that they’d be able to read the Bible, but we all know how well that idea worked out. Her insistence on it may have been one of the things that led to her death because it was the most bitter argument she had with Cromwell, right before the beginning of the “investigation” into her adultery.

Diana:  As a person—I can’t say I do, because he was way too self-centered, and oblivious to the consequences of his actions, such as breaking off with the Catholic Church and starting the Church of England just to obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. How self-centered can a man get? He destroyed many of the magnificent monasteries and abbeys, and had dissenters brutally executed. I’d have to say his faults outweigh his qualities. 

Lissa: Your book doesn’t focus on the queens as much as other Tudor novels do. Do you have a favorite among them?

Diana: My favorite has always been Anne Boleyn, because I believe she truly loved him, and died such a horrible death for crimes she didn’t commit. She was the ultimate victim and human sacrifice. I also like her because she was feisty, intelligent, and challenged him on many subjects. It’s one of history’s great tragedies that she didn’t live to see her daughter Elizabeth become the great queen she was.  

Lissa: Anne Boleyn is my favorite, of course, but I also have a soft spot for little Katheryn Howard. She was such a sweet girl, and so badly used by the men in her life. She was slain just because she’d been sexually experienced before she married Henry. From a modern perspective, it’s horrific beyond words. Henry could have set her aside and sent her to a convent, because there was plenty of evidence she was legally married to Francis Dereham. He had an out. But he wanted her dead for breaking his heart.

Tell me about your research process. Did you find anything that surprised you?

Diana: I wrote THE JEWELS OF WARWICK in 1991, with no internet! I relied solely on books. This was even before I joined the Richard III Society, so I didn’t know any scholars to give the manuscript a thorough critique. 

Lissa: Me either.  I had a history buff friend read it once I’d finished, but I’ve never had anyone I could have vet the manuscript for me. But I think I’m my own worst critic when it comes to historical accuracy. I’m very hard on myself when it comes to verifying every detail I can. I’m sure I made some callow mistakes along the way, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

When I first started writing, I was intensely private about my work. I didn’t have any editors or betas. The editing process was difficult for me at first. I had very warm and kind editors who presented it as “We’re just taking this and trying to make it the best it can possibly be!” But it was still difficult to “open up” to other people with it.

Diana: What surprised me was the chain of events leading to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon—his ‘great matter’ as he called it—his confrontations with the Pope, his many frustrations, his terrible treatment of Catherine, what he put her and his advisors through, and the great lengths he went to, just to divorce her and marry Anne, for his (as we see it now) selfish reasons, one of which was the need of a male heir. One of the books I read to research this was THE DIVORCE by Marvin Albert. It goes into great detail about each step Henry took, ending with breaking with Rome and starting the Church of England. 

Lissa: Henry was incredibly stubborn about getting what he wanted. He couldn’t bear to have anyone refuse him. I think of what Campeggio wrote when he arrived in England, that an angel descending from Heaven couldn’t tell Henry he was wrong about something.

Imagine what his parents would have thought if they could have seen him and how utterly horrified they would have been at what Henry did —the way he squandered his fortune, broke with the church, and abused his wives and daughters. 

Diana: His father would have been appalled, as Henry VII was known to be a miser! I’m sure his mother Elizabeth of York would have been extremely disappointed with the way Henry handled things. Her own two brothers Richard and Edward disappeared from the Tower of London, and no matter what the experts say, we’ll never know what happened to them. We don’t know if she knew, either, but she would have been horrified to see her son execute Anne and Catherine.
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#VIKINGS returns, and So Do the #ShieldGeeks With Your Weekly Review!

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This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”

“These chicks are machines!”

And Yes, we did one, too!)

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings.

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fourth (point five) season on HISTORY CHANNEL. Follow us on twitter with the hashtag #ShieldGeeks where and Lissa and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We’ll follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day. We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!


Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

Lissa: It seems like we've had such a long wait, but the show made it up to us with an episode that delivered a lot of emotion and promise for an exciting season.

  Sandi: I really appreciated that this episode focused on the Kattegat Kontingent (Yes, I know I spelled that with a K. Alliteration, anyone?) As an audience, we need to get to know Vikings: The Next Generation and we got a good start on that. A solid beginning for what is to come!

Lissa: We began right where we left off with Ragnar thrusting his sword into the earth and shouting to his sons, "Who wants to be king?" He throws his arms wide, baring his chest for a blade, daring them to kill him and take the throne. After a long, tense moment, Ubbe strides forward, sword in hand, his head lowered... Ragnar challenge him, even strikes him, trying to goad him into attacking

.Sandi: Well, just before that part, you see this really quiet scene. Ragnar, alone, on the edge of the water. It's obvious it's out of sequence from the last scene of the prior episode and before the continuation of that scene that you just mentioned. Highly effective, a bit disconcerting, and a good place to take a breath before we were tossed in.

  Lissa: We next see Ragnar standing alone at the edge of the bay, looking out over the water. Was it the same place he made his tender goodbyes to his daughter, Gyda? He stands there, silent, for a long moment.

  Sandi: Ah, I hadn't even thought of it as a Gyda-moment. Shame on me, as she's a favorite of mine. But yeah, I can see that. Ragnar was a fond father, especially in his younger years. It isn't as obvious when we return to the confrontation with his son's in Kattegat's market square.

  Lissa: And then... They embrace. Björn asks his father, "Why have you returned?"

  Sandi: I thought it was a great question. Regardless of the fact that the young men were just discussing it, it bears confrontation, here. Björn is getting his future in order, as we knew from the prior episode as well as his plans as they unfold in this one. The other lads are all sons of Aslaug and have their own dynamic. Why would their father return when he'd been (apparently) content to be gone so long?

  Lissa: We see him with the quartet next, and he tells his sons the reason he's returned is to see what has become of them. He wants to go back to England, but Björn tells him that he intends to explore the Mediterranean. Hvitserk is going with Björn. Sigurd and Ubbe say they will not leave their mother because their kingdom in Kattegat needs to be protected. Ragnar tells them they're right to think of family. They walk away from their father, leaving him alone beneath a tree.

Sandi: This is their stance at the beginning of the episode. I have to wonder, as we see the tale spin out, how much of these answers were made strictly in a contrary reaction to their father's reappearance?

  Lissa: The boys discuss this over dinner as Aslaug watches. As they debate whether to join Björn's or Ragnar's voyage, Ivar sneers at Sigurd's decision to stay in Kattegat and asks him if he's worried about getting seasick. Sigurd retorts he's afraid of nothing.

Sandi: The episode is called The Outsider and it seems that the reference is to Ivar, here. His inclusion into various aspects of his brothers' lives is . . . unwontedly later than it might be. Additionally, Aslaug has always rather favored him, so this would contribute as much as his physical disability, I would think. That Ivar makes his presence felt by taunts and the force of his personality is not to be wondered at. What did we call him? A sociopath? A charming one?

  Lissa: Ivar next creeps on the slave girl who fills their goblets, running his hand down over her hip. When Ubbe chides him that it's wrong to treat her that way, Ivar shrugs and says she's just a slave. Aslaug asks him to stop.

Sandi: Aslaug. I am not entirely sure what to make of her at this juncture, to be honest. But Ragnar's first wife is easier for me to read.

  Lissa: Lagertha doesn't seem to have aged a day.

Sandi: No. Kidding. Especially compared to Ragnar. Thanks to genetics (and the wonderful people of the VIKINGS makeup teams, I'm certain!) Lagertha now appears almost in a different generation than the husband of her youth.

  Lissa: She is sparring with a dark-haired girl with an elaborate neck tattoo, whose name is Astrid, but I have officially dubbed Joan Jett. I won't be budged on this nickname. Enshrined, it is, in our conversations, thus and forevermore. Joan Jett is holding her own as they tussle, Lagertha initially getting the upper hand, then being toppled by the other woman. When they fall back to the grass beside one another Joan asks her whether Lagertha will tell her what they're training for, but Lagertha says she's not yet ready to say it.

Sandi: Which of course allows us to speculate. Lagertha is still, one presumes, the Earl Ingstad. Is she preparing for a conflict that will involve her demesne? I am inclined to think not, for if that were the case, she'd have warriors at her back. This is a one-on-one sparring session, so she is preparing for a one-on-one bout of hand-to-hand combat. Gee, I wonder whom she is planning on fighting?

Lissa: Björn visits the Seer, who tells him that his father's return bodes despair and bloodshed.
Sandi: This is classified in the "Captain Obvious" file. Which is sad, really, when one reflects on where Ragnar started in the first season. He wanted adventure and renown. But these can indeed breed chaos and death, given the opportunity.

  Lissa: Björn asks him if this means he will die, and the Seer won't answer that. All he will do is make vague predictions of doom. For all their glories, the gods will be filled with despair, the Seer says mournfully. He says Björn will curse the day Ragnar returned.

Sandi: Evil writers! The Seer is a great fellow for feeding lines, isn't he? The "curse the day" statement is dramatic but a bit more specific than the "despairing gods" prediction. We are left to wonder why Björn would curse that day? He's irritated, perhaps, but Björn has plans already in motion that, frankly, had nothing to do with Ragnar and everything to do with Floki and that map Björn's had for so long. How will Ragnar's presence affect that? Well, perhaps this is one of the reasons we have the dynamic of the brothers being presented . . .

  Lissa: Björn goes into his bedroom and we see Torvi there, nursing a bitty BjörnBaby. She asks him why he's not going to England to avenge the colony, and Björn tells her that the days of Ragnar's missions being their priority are over.

  Sandi: It was good to see Torvi, even if for just a moment, as we had no sense of where she was when we left Kattegat at the end of the prior episode. That he is claiming his own adventures as priority speaks of Björn's disillusionment as well as his independence. I think, not too long ago, he was much more supportive of his father. But his reappearance and apparent utter lack of concern/regret about having been gone so long without word, has squashed much of the former good opinion Björn may have held.

  Lissa: Instead of visiting his [former] wife, Ragnar goes to see Floki. He sneaks up on Helga and when she startles he teases her that she looks like she's seen a ghost.
Sandi: This is a sweet scene. There has always been an interesting dynamic between Ragnar, Floki, and Helga throughout the series. Here, as they're all older and (hopefully) wiser, we get to see the maturity of years and the comfort of long acquaintance. Humor, pathos, familiarity.

  Lissa: He checks out the beautiful new ship Floki has built, but it's not for him, it's for Björn. Floki says he's refined the design, learning from past mistakes, and now he's designed a ship that can take them to the Mediterranean. Ragnar is a little wistful as he says it's fitting - albeit annoying - that Floki's skills have now passed to Björn's command. Ragnar says he has a feeling if Floki doesn't come with him, it's the last he'll ever see of him. Floki tells him that no matter what happens, they'll meet again in Valhalla, where they will drink, and fight, and revel in the presence of the friends they've lost. Ragnar tells him he's lost his faith in that. When he leaves, he turns and tells Floki that he loves him. The expression in Floki's eyes at that moment made tears well up in my own.

  Sandi: That really was gorgeously done. We speculated on twitter that the Ragnar-Floki relationship is one of the enduring ones that VIKINGS has shown us. From their wild and crazy youth, through trials and outright opposition, to this quieter time in their later years, we've seen a wide spectrum of a Viking Bromance.

  Lissa: They were the words he always wanted to hear. A tiny bit of a giggle bursts from him, a flash of the old "tetched" Floki that so enthralled me from the first season. He shouts joyfully at Ragnar's retreating back that he loves him too. He always has.

  Sandi: But even as Ragnar walked on his solitary way, I was feeling a foreboding. Ragnar was saying farewell. Which is a heavy thing.

  Lissa: The slave girl who was groped by Ivar is Margrethe, but she looks just like Danaerys, Mother of Dragons.

  She strolls into the arms of each of Ragnar's sons while Ivar watches, creeping from spot to spot to peer through boards and bushes voyeur-ing as she lies with each of them. I speculated initially that Ivar was resentful that she was freely giving his brothers what he had to compel.

  Sandi: This really was creepy. I am thinking all the brothers had to know she was not "exclusive" to any of them, but I wonder if they knew Ivar was watching? Don't you get a sense of your siblings after a life spent in close association? And if so, why did they do it? Back to The Outsider theme again. An interesting portrayal.

  Lissa: We next see the brothers sparring in the woods, practicing swordplay and shooting their bows.

There was a delightful nod to the Sagas when Ivar skillfully put two arrows right through the eyes of a deer carcass they're using as a target.

He also shoots an arrow between his brothers and drives it deep into a log behind them. We also see him throw an ax with incredible strength when Ubbe playfully knocks his mug of mead from his hand with his blade.

  Sandi: This is more of the Brother Bonding thing amongst Aslaug's sons that I really enjoyed in this episode. Ivar may be an outsider, but his brothers have sought to see to his complete training in combat or at least self-defense. I wouldn't want to take Ivar on, to be sure. And, of course, being good brothers, Ubbe, Hvitserk, and Sigurd all seek to make sure their brother achieves all milestones of manhood.

Lissa: But the issue with Margrethe, as it turns out from a conversation he has with his brothers after they're worn out and laying in a semi-circle on the earth, is more than simple jealousy that she freely chooses to be with them. Ivar has never lain with a woman. His brothers gamely offer to ask her if she'd mind giving him a tumble. They remind him that Margrethe is more than "just a slave." She's a person. Ivar is torn between resentment that they have to ask her to sleep with a "cripple" and longing for the experience.

Sandi: They're doing their best, to be sure! But they can't control everything, can they?

  Lissa: A tumble is duly arranged and there's some real awkwardness in the initial stages. Things seem to be going well when suddenly Ivar freezes and falls to the bedding in shame.


Sandi: And, yeah. One of the historical suppositions regarding Ivar is that his nickname of "Boneless" has to do with his being impotent. There are no descendants of his body on record (and he has quite a reputation, so sons and/or daughters would have been noted) and no record of his having married. When his bones were recovered, a boar's tusk was found in his pelvis, as if his men—who were devoted to him as a leader, for Ivar was apparently quite charismatic—wanted to make sure that there was no doubt whatsoever that Ivar was a Man Among Men.

  Lissa: He flips Margrethe onto her belly and pulls her necklace tight around her throat. He says he has to kill her now to keep the secret that he's impotent. (Jeeze, it's the first time, Ivar. Give it another go before you declare it impossible! A little patience and gentleness, and perhaps a little blue pill...) He hisses that he likes killing as Margrethe pleads for her life. Margrethe is a quick-thinking girl. She tells him that she'll keep his secret. Just because he can't do this one thing doesn't mean he's not a man. Lots of men can have sex. Lots men can have children. Those things are easy. To be a son of Ragnar Lothbrok and to find greatness that is hard. I truly believe that.

  Sandi: I was quite worried for Margarethe there, for a bit. Ivar does not, historically, have the most merciful reputation and he is likely carrying about a huge chip on his shoulder. She did incredibly well under pressure and I hope that her quick thinking continues to pay off. And I hope she keeps her mouth shut, too!

  Lissa: Alex Høgh Andersen's acting in this scene was absolutely superb. Ivar's rage melts into doubt, grief, and shame. He begins to sob, and she lies down beside him quietly.

  Sandi: The casting for this show is pretty much perfection. Alex has a hard role, but he's making it work, compelling even the unsympathetic—namely me—to hop in his wagon. I couldn't stand Ivar the Child, and I might not LIKE him as an adult, but I can't fail to be impressed by him.

  Lissa: Ragnar heads next to visit Lagertha. He meets with Joan Jett first who tells him that the woman who was her wet nurse told her tales of Ragnar Lothbrook, and she believes the woman was a bit in love with him. Ragnar teasingly asks how he can meet this woman. He tells Joan he's old enough to be her father, and he doesn't remember her. Joan scoffs and Lagertha enters. Dressed in green, she has a tawny owl as a pet now.

  Sandi: And here we see the huge differences that life has brought to my VIKINGS OTP. Ragnar looks ancient, in this scene. His eyes still twinkle, but dimly. His attire lacks . . . everything. He appears to be on a medieval mortification pilgrimage. And Lagertha looks like a manifestation of a classic goddess.

Lissa: She asks Ragnar why he's come, why he left. Ragnar says he was simply uninterested in ruling any longer. Lagertha chides him that he had responsibilities. She asks why he never told her that the Wessex colony had been wiped out. Ragnar apologizes, quite humbly, I might add. He asks her about Joan Jett and what kind of relationship Lagertha has with her. Lagertha deflects that, and she also rejects his invitation to return to England on a new raid. Ragnar sighs as he sits back in his chair and tells her he made many mistakes, and has many regrets. One of his regrets is what happened between them.
Sandi: It was apology that was frightfully long in coming. With age comes wisdom but it can come too late for some of us. What if Ragnar had remained content as a farmer? What if he and Lagertha had been able to eventually have more children, quietly prosperous on their farm and with their fishing weirs? It is of course too late for speculation for Ragnar, but he can see that with great ambition comes great trouble and he's been fully immersed in both.

  Lissa: "No regrets... and every regret," Lagertha says to him. They kiss... sweetly and tenderly. He walks away from her, and Lagertha's face is filled with sorrow. We later see Lagertha and Joan in bed together. Joan says that Lagertha still loves Ragnar. Does she love Ragnar more than she loves Joan?

  Sandi: Do we even have to ask? Ragnar is the love of Lagertha's life, I think. Their relationship—another long one that VIKINGS has featured throughout—is a cornerstone for both of them.

  Lissa: Lagertha says of course not, and they kiss.

  Sandi: I have to wonder what larger purpose there is for Joan Jett, here. Will she have a plot-significant role or is she there to broaden Lagertha's character?

  Lissa: The sons meet one more time, and Ubbe, Hitsverk, and Sigurd all say they're unwilling to go with Ragnar. Ivar spits that they are bastards, unworthy to be Ragnar's sons.

  Sandi: I am inclined to think that Ivar the Dramatic is overstating the case a bit. I think the other sons are merely abiding on principle: Dad Abandoned Us. We're Not Supporting Dad.


Lissa: Lagertha watches as Ragnar rides off into the distance the following morning. Joan Jett asks her if she regrets she didn't go with him. Lagertha says she was never really sure how she should feel about him, but then again, she wasn't the only woman who felt that way. It's a very poignant scene, and it made one of those watching with us wonder if it had a special significance.

  Sandi: Will this be the last time she sees him? It is evident that Ragnar is, once again, saying farewell. His response to Lagertha's kiss was probably far less that Lagertha herself was expecting; after all, she sent Joan Jett away. He is distancing himself from her. From everyone. Lagertha is not unaware of that.

  Lissa: Ragnar rides off, alone. No one has agreed to come with him. He has no allies, no friends, no one to raid with him and avenge the settlement lost in Wessex.

He spots a tree, and eyes one of its limbs. He rides up below it and tosses a rope over the limb...

Sandi: It is at this point that I am reminded of Odin's stint at the Hanged Man. Odin the All-Father, according to the tales, attained wisdom by hanging from Yggdrasil. It was a great sacrifice that he made and it is reflected in the standard Tarot card designs. I honestly saw Ragnar seeking to do likewise, here. At least at first. Until I saw how he did this.

  Lissa: Then climbs his horse and digs his heels into its sides...

But as he hangs himself from the rope, a flock of ravens lights on the branch. One even perches on Ragnar's shoulder and gives a peck at the knot slowly strangling him. They all take flight when the rope snaps and he falls to the earth. For a moment, he just sits there, coughing, and then he flops back, defeated, and the expression on his face is a little wry. The gods will not let him die. Not yet.
Sandi: Because I was. I was thinking that perhaps Odin's presence—the Raven being a part of Ragnar's spiritual life in Season One, to be sure—had intervened in this, his attempted suicide.

  Lissa: Ragnar makes his way back to the great hall and sits down in his throne with a sigh. Ivar crawls along the floor and pulls himself up into the queen's chair. He tells Ragnar that Aslaug would never let anyone sit in Ragnar's throne, but at night, Ivar would creep to it and sit in it, brooding on how his father had abandoned him. Ivar asks why he hasn't spoken to Aslaug, and why he abandoned them. Ragnar doesn't look at him as he says that perhaps he'll explain himself when they get to England. Ivar stares at him. England? Is Ragnar asking him to go? Just assuming he'll come along? Fine, don't come, Ragnar says. Ivar retorts that now he doesn't want him to come? Fine, come, Ragnar says. Only if Ragnar asks him properly, like he asked his brothers, Ivar says.

Ragnar turns and begins to ask nicely, and Ivar interrupts him to say he'll come. It's a very cute scene, and it it seems like Ivar is going to grow on us, despite - or perhaps because of - his sociopath's charm.

  Sandi: And here, at the end of the episode, we can see that The Outsider might not refer solely to Ivar. It likely refers to Ragnar as well. Neither of them fit in with their people, precisely. Both of them want to be elsewhere.
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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for another episode!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4

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