"The Prince's Bride" by JJ McAvoy

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As soon as I read the description of this book, I knew I had to read it. Royalty, as readers of my blog might have gathered, is one of my fascinations. JJ McAvoy warned me that it might not be what I was expecting because her prince was from an invented country, but her royals live with the same realities of modern European royalty -- an avid press, traditions, duty, and the ever-present knowledge that as a member of the royal family, one's life is never quite one's own.

Prince Gale is the second son, and though still somewhat restricted by protocol, he enjoys his life to the fullest. Until he learns two devastating facts: his father has dementia and the kingdom is broke. He's being asked to secure a rich bride and one has been chosen for him.

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Odette Wyntor is an American, sharing the inheritance of her father's massive tech fortune with her half-sister.  But her father has put restrictions on the money -- each of his daughters must marry in order to inherit. Odette hopes that she can support herself and her mother with her music career, but it soon becomes apparent she can't keep up with the bills. Though she's loath accept it, Odette needs a husband as much as Gale needs a rich wife.

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It's a familiar enough story. In the late Victorian era, impoverished nobles married wealthy American heiresses. I immediately thought back to Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. Neither of them wanted the match, either. But as Gale's mother says early in the book, they cannot look for anyone to save them for they are the people who must do the saving.

This book is a lovely romance, sweet and royally funny. Gale attempts to court the reluctant Odette. He's a smart guy. He knows that strong relationships are built on friendship and that's where he starts. He's sincere, but terribly awkward, because this is the first time it's actually meant something, and this is the first time he finds himself truly caring about a woman. Odette has been hurt too many times not to give in without a struggle. But Gale is so charming a character you can't help but fall in love with him right along with her.

 I couldn't help but think of another "American Princess," Meghan Markle, who's faced an uphill battle for acceptance as Harry's bride. This book is focused on their romance here in the United States, but what sort of welcome will Odette, a woman of color, receive from the people of her new nation? I'm really eager to get my hands on the next volume because Odette and Gale have some pretty significant challenges they have to face, and I want to see how Odette will do in her new role.

Heart of Steel by Rose B. Mashal

This week, I read Heart of Steel by Rose B. Mashal. As ya'll are probably aware by now, I looooooves me some sci-fi romance and when Rose offered me a copy of her book, I jumped at it, even though I've been so busy with the Unnamed Underground Railroad Project. Still, when I could steal a moment away, I'd pull out my Kindle, and I found myself thinking about the story at odd moments of the day. It really captured my imagination.

Penelope "Penny" Ford is a scientist who's lost her fiance, Michael, to a terrible accident. He's been at her side since they were both in grade school, and it seems like her entire world has been ripped away. She's numbed with sorrow and her life feels empty. She actually lives a very rich life with an older couple who act as though they're her adopted parents, and loving friends her own age, but she's fixated on her loss and unable to move on. She hides how badly she's doing from the people who love her.

But she has a plan. She company she works for has had her working on developing an android. Penny plans to use him to recreate her fiance. Without telling anyone, she sculpts his face and body to become an identical copy of the man she lost. She enlists the help of another friend to replicate his voice, and even secretly comes up with a way to install Michael's memories in the android.

Ian, as she calls him, fulfills those longings in her soul. She would be perfectly happy, but she has to hide what she's done from her friends and from the company investors, each of whom seems to have their own hidden agendas for the androids and are fighting a war behind the scenes to determine who will decide the purpose of the first set of androids put into widescale production.

Strange things are happening with Ian, too. Penny's alterations to Ian leads to him making his own decisions instead of simply obeying the programming. Odd files appear within his code. He begins to create art, and while Penny is the focus of his world, he's starting to develop and make decisions of his own ... perhaps in ways Penny didn't intend. It was one of the fun things about this book, noticing those little things that her happiness and delight with her creation blinded her to.

Then one of the investors is murdered and suddenly it appears that there was a lot more going on behind the scenes of this project than Penny realized.

I really enjoyed this story and I'm looking forward to the sequel. Here's a link to it on Amazon.

New Project, New Directions

Hello again, my lovelies! Seems ages since we've talked, doesn't it? Well, ages since I updated my blog, anyway.

So, here's the gist of things: After the death of my best friend, the closure of my publisher, and well, *gestures vaguely in the direction of everything*

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... I was a wee bit out of it. I wrote a few history articles, but fiction just seemed to elude me. Even updating my fic stories was difficult.

Friends encouraged me to continue to write. I even spoke with an agent in New York who was interested in seeing a new manuscript. But without having a publisher, it felt... speculative. It felt like buying curtains for a house I didn't have. And, frankly, the idea of shopping around and facing rejection just seemed wearying.

Other friends said I should go the self-publishing route, but even the small I taste I got with putting my books back on Amazon after the rights reverted to me was enough to let me know that wasn't the route for me. I have huge respect for people who manage it, but it's just too much. Too "businessy" when all I want to do is write stuff.

Well, I may have found a way to do that.

I'm sliding over to write non-fiction for a while, and my first project is going to be about Ohio's role in the Underground Railroad and the sites which remain. It will henceforth be known as the Untitled Underground Railroad Project until such time as I find a title for it, which demonstrates my mad skillz at naming stuff.

I hope to bring you along on this journey, and I hope the articles I've written for The History Geeks and my various blogs demonstrate that I can make history as entertaining as fiction.

New Story Coming Soon!

Immigrant Song
by Lissa Bryan

Bella made a promise to her dying grandmother that she would see the monument to the General completed, but doing so means taking on a powerful anti-immigrant group. She needs allies, and perhaps she’s found one in a handsome junior congressman with a wicked sparkle in his eyes…

“My grandmother joined with Dolley Madison to help create General Washington's monument. It broke my heart, even as a young girl, to see what happened to her project.”
“Somehow the Know-Nothings seized control of it, that I know. But I do not see how I can help you with that.”
Bella smiled, a tiny smirk of satisfaction. She sat back in her chair. “That’s what I stole. I stole it back.”
He spoke slowly. “You … stole back ... the Washington Monument?”
Bella tilted her head. “I did, actually.”

This story is part of the Babies at the Border Fiction Compilation.

To get this story -- and stories from ninety other talented writers -- donate $10 to either RAICES or ACLU and then email in your receipt! That's it!
The ACLU: They have become the champions against this administrations worst ideas in regards to the treatment of asylum seekers. Their most recent win allowed doctors to tour the detention camps to verify that the conditions adhere to the safe and sanitary guidelines required by law. This will greatly improve the conditions in which children are currently kept.
To donate visit: https://action.aclu.org/give/now
RAICES: While this organization focuses mainly in Texas, most of the detainment centers are located along this border state with the exception of a few in other states. They provide free or low cost legal aid to children who are forced to represent themselves in court. Kids as young as three year olds are being asked to present their case in immigration courts and being denied asylum when they are unable to present their case. Raices is helping both children and adults obtain legal aid in order to ensure a fair trial and due process.
To donate visit :https://www.raicestexas.org/donate/
Again a simple $10 donation will get you a copy of the compilation. However, in an effort to help raise as much as we can this year we are going to raffle the published books donated by authors to those who donate $15 or more. All you have to do is email a copy of your donation receipt to

The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS 5.20 "Ragnarok"

“They're nice women, really. They just know a lot about hangings." 

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 fifth 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 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: *ominious voice* And so it has come to this… The finale of the fifth season. It’s been such an incredible journey since we started with Ragnar Loðbrók , the farmer who had dreams of going to sea to raid new lands.

Sandi: And the final arc of this season has carefully reminded us of Ragnar, his goals, and his life and death in every episode. Which is a good play by History Channel and Michael Hirst as Travis Fimmel was a huge draw to the series as Ragnar. It's been quite the ride watching his sons grow into manhood without him. 

Lissa: We’ve seen Kattegat grow from a tiny fishing village into a vibrant trading center. We’ve seen his boys grow into men. And now, three of his sons have gone to war with one another, joined by the armies of two kings.

SandiHistorically, the Ragnarssons didn't war against one another. Brothers generally stuck together. But drama wins in Vikings! And I have to applaud History Channel for how they've grown Kattegat over the decades in which the show has covered. It's quite the place at this juncture. 

Lissa: The episode opens with Hvitserk and Olaf on a hill overlooking Kattegat. Olaf still isn’t entirely convinced this invasion was a good idea. As the two men walk away, Hvitserk drops his Buddha figure. I thought some more about this one after the show aired, and since it was never addressed again in the episode, its significance is left open to speculation. Was he renouncing the philosophy he’s acquired, returning to the old gods?

SandiIf he is doing so, he's not alone as the season closes out. Ubbe has returned to his faith in the gods of his people, and Freydis has lost faith in her "god" - Ivar. There is more than one dropped plot point in this episode, though. Perhaps this was just a harbinger . . . silent and neglected though it might have been. 

Lissa: Ivar is surveying his defenses of Kattegat. They’ve built planed-lumber palisade walls, fastened with iron bolts.

 Ivar learns that Björn is on his way, but he’s also accompanied by Harald Finehair’s army and Hvitserk with King Olaf.

SandiAll right, we'll get to the bolts "anon", as Shakespeare (hey, if we're going for full-on anachronisms, let's do it!) would have said. The planed-lumber could have been a thing, in this place and time. The shipwrights of the Northmen were wonderfully talented and they knew how to work wood to their best advantage, as we have historical evidence in their longships. Planing wood was only a part of this craft. However, having said this, I will also say that a planed-wood fortress is not the most sturdy of creations. Full on log construction would have been more solid and more flame retardant—especially if the logs were reasonably fresh. Such a construction would also have been more time- and labor-friendly. 

Lissa: Ivar gives a humorless chuckle and tells Freydis that all of his brothers are now against him. It seems like it’s a bitter pill to swallow. I mean, he only verbally abused his brother the entire time they were together and threatened to burn his lover alive and why, oh why, would Hvitsy do this to him?

SandiIvar's emotional states are . . . legendary. And I also suspect they are purposeful as well as being deliberately manipulative. He is a sociopath . . . but one who has clear ideas on what motivates others in their dealings with him. The actor who portrays him, Alex Høgh Andersen, has tapped all that in his character and it's chillingly good. He's a fantastic villain. 

Lissa: Lagertha is on a ship with Torvi, and both women lean over the side as they talk. Torvi asks Lagertha what happened to her, and Lagertha says she almost died, but was reborn. Torvi asks her what she saw when she was there, at the point between life and death. Lagertha says that she discovered life is suffering, and what’s important is how we deal with suffering, how we deal with the truth. Torvi looks over at her boys playing on the deck and asks how she’s supposed to tell her children that life is nothing but suffering. Lagertha gives a small, rueful chuckle and tells her that they’ll learn that on their own.

Sandi: Lagertha has portrayed, since her reappearance after the battle in which Heahmund was killed, a lack of maternal warmth for anyone, it would seem. Or at least for those in a younger generation. She is focused on the present and her nearest concerns. No longer a shield maiden but an advisor to those whom she has already deemed worthy, perhaps, of her wisdom. Children? Not so much, maybe.
Lissa: In retrospect, I realize we should have deduced where they were going from the fact they were on a ship. If they’d been heading to Ubbe’s new farmland, they wouldn’t have been aboard a boat.

Sandi: Right. I don't remember the "Let's Go" conversation, though I imagine there was one somewhere. Ubbe seemed content to remain in Wessex and get his people settled. Just, not yet. Because it's a season finale and all the sons of Ragnar need to be in the frame, right? 

Lissa: At camp, Olaf sits before the fire and recites the story of Ragnarok as everyone listens. Gunnhild, in particular, seems really enthusiastic about the tale, her eyes almost as bright as the flames. Olaf’s words have the ring of dire prophecy. The war, he intones, will last three winters, and the wolf will clench the sun between his teeth, which is the death of the All-Father.

Sandi:  There is perhaps a sense of a return of the Mystic, in this episode. Without the Seer from Kattegat, who can bring for the ominous portents and foreshadow doom and fame? Is Olaf filling this role, now? Or is this just a temporary appointment? 

Lissa: Harald pulls them back to the here and now, saying it’s only a story. Olaf says that stories are all we have.
Sandi: Telling inspirational stories before a battle is a good idea. The old bards have been known to have songs to sing before and after a battle to invigorate the spirit and congratulate/commiserate the post-fight psyches of those in their charge. Today, commanders at all levels will try to connect with their warriors, or have someone do so in their stead. 

Lissa: The next day, Björn and Harald paint their faces as they prepare for battle and discuss strategy, the possibility of splitting the attack force into two sides. Harald smears his cheek with blue paint and announces it’s for his brother.
Sandi: Face-painting is not a Viking thing, of course. There isn't a discussion, here, as to the manner of the painting, only that it seems they're all doing so. Some blue, some white. Remember, blue was not an easy color to make, so it's kind of a special color, here. White stands out in battle, as well. Did the invaders apply the paint as a means of identification? Possibly. Without a specific identifier, the fighters were more or less homogenous. Their differences were in their allegiances. And, of course, it makes for a good visual for filming. ;-) 

Lissa: Ivar is parting from Fredyis. He says he needs to know he has her forgiveness for all of the things he’s done.

 She says she does, but the “beloved” she tacks on to the end of that sentence sounds almost like an epithet.
Sandi: A discussion rose on twitter around this point, regarding the behaviors of abusive partners in a relationship. Whereas I had little sympathy for Freydis this season, she has been mistreated by her spouse since the birth of her son and his behavior here is text-book for an abusive spouse. (Thank you, @DeeDonuts!)

Lissa: Ivar departs when the horns blow, announcing the attack has begun. He climbs up the fortifications, and those walls were just painful to my sensibilities. Okay, yeah, Ivar has traveled and seen the fortifications in York, but those palisades are elaborate…. And the IRON BOLTS, Sandi! The IRON BOLTS!!
SandiYeah. (Still kinda cringing, over here.) So, the bolts. Told you we'd get back to this, right? There is a long and glorious history regarding construction with and without iron bolts, nails, rivets, and so on. People have written books and treatises on this very topic. I am quite serious, for the discovery of iron fasteners in construction can be instrumental in dating archaeological sites. Nails were made by the Romans in job-lots "as early as 2000 years ago" says the Suffolk Latch Company. They left behind nails in the fortress at Inchtuthil in Perthshire. But this was a time-intensive project, making nails, never mind bolts! The more usual thing was to use wooden pegs in a construction as they were easier to shape and wood didn't require refining or the heat and effort of a blacksmith's forge.

Lissa: The battle begins. Ivar sees Björn leading the army and orders his archers to fire. Gunnhild shouts for a shield wall as they drive forward, firing arrows of their own. A battering ram is brought toward the gates and Ivar’s people rain arrows on them.
SandiBoth sides are comprised of seasoned campaigners, at this juncture. Or at least, they're led by tried warriors. We the audience were not treated to a great deal of pre-battle strategizing this time; the show moved us quickly to the fight. 

Lissa:  Only later is a framed cover brought forward to shield them, which seems… odd. Why wouldn’t they carry that forward at the same time as the ram?

Sandi: I am honestly not sure, unless they were waiting for Ivar's people to show their own response before they brought in the cover. What kind of defense was poised against them, etc... Also, of course, remember this is entertainment. **wry smile**
Lissa: Magnus reaches the wall and collapses down in a protected spot behind a wagon, terrified and praying. He starts reciting scripture.
SandiMagnus's role in this season is and will remain, alas, a mystery. How he grew up, where he grew up, where he came to know and abide by the Christian faith, why he sought out Björn and Co., all huge gaps in the character. On the No Ship Network's podcast from the last episode, it was posited that Magnus was introduced so that another Ragnarsson would be slain at the end of the season. If so, it seems to me to be a lame reason for a character's presence! Vikings Season 5 Episode 19 "What Happens in the Cave"

Lissa: Ladders and grappling hooks are thrown up against the wall. Ivar pours that magical Instantly Flammable Oil of Demise down on the men and lights it.

SandiI have dubbed the Mystery Fluid IFOoD. iFood? Ivar's IFOoD? In any event, the dispensation of Insta-Flame is not uncommon in any kind of defense of a fortification. 

Lissa: Olaf, seated on a sedan-chair throne, starts ranting about the death of humanity. “Come, come,” he cries, imploring his audience to come watch the young tear out one another’s throats with their teeth, the world’s most bizarre carnival barker. And he just sits there, amid the battle -- weaponless, shieldless – calling for an invisible audience to come and witness the blood and guts.
Sandi: As you are sadly aware, Lissa, I am ignorant of the poetic eddas of the Viking cultures, be they Norse, Danish, or Icelandic. I had to look this one up. The Völuspáis an Icelandic poem—with sixty-five short stanzas, as I learned on Britannica.com—that waxes on about Norse gods, world history, and the ending of the world in Ragnarok. It is dated to about A.D. 1000. It is a poem of warning, and so suitable here in this episode. 

Lissa:  Hvitserk and Harald end up sharing cover under a wagon. Harald says they can’t retreat now. What if Björn has already made it through the gate on the other side?
Sandi: War makes strange bedfellows, no? Harald seems to venerate and resent the Ragnarssons by turns.

Lissa: Björn actually has made it through with a few men, but Ivar traps them inside and cuts them off from the rest of the army. His own troops surround Björn and he orders the archers to kill them. Gunnhild, though, is fighting through them atop the wall, and the casualties aren’t as bad as they might have been. Björn orders a retreat and they scramble up the wall to escape.

SandiIt was a good call, strategically. They found out what Ivar had on his side and could then pull back to regroup. Retreat is not a bad thing. 

Lissa: Outside, Magnus finally finds a measure of courage, telling himself he’s Ragnar’s son. He stands up and tries to climb a ladder, only to be jerked right back down by Harald, who leads him a few paces away under his shield. He tells Magnus that he once thought he was a spy. Magnus hotly denies it. He says he only just now, in this instant, understood who he was. Harald starts to tell him that he believes him now, but Magnus is pierced with an arrow and collapses to the ground, dead.
Sandi: Sorry, History Channel. I still don't get it. But I do applaud @RidgeDean for his portrayal of a character that came kind of out of nowhere for this season. 

Lissa: At the wall, Ivar is using… and I’m struggling to type these words… a flame-thrower. Yes, he’s using a bellows to spray out fire, presumably using the Instantly Flammable Oil of Demise, and I am now dead myself, slain by anachronismitis.
Sandi: You know me. I have to research everything. So I looked up bellows and their history in a quick dash about the internet this morning. You can actually see them being used in a 9th Century manuscript pictured at Werksansicht. I found the link on the blog My Medieval Foundry.

Bellows have been around a long time, but I am still kind of eyeing them used in this battle as an anachronism. Flame-throwers? Really? The problem here is that howEVer Ivar was using the bellows in any proximity to the IFOoD he was employing to great effect, the bellows would have been vulnerable. Clearly even the clothing of the warriors was not flame-retardant and there is no reason to suppose that the bellows employed in this episode had achieved this status. Generally, yes, bellows were used by blacksmiths, but they were used as a distance from live fire—generally nearer the coals but in no way near open flame. The bellows should have been on fire, burning the hands that fed them, as it were. Flame throwers using any kind of liquid usually have to be sprayed through a flame-retardant hose of some sort. It's not pretty. (But I do like having found the psalter images!) 

Lissa: Outside the walls, Björn shouts back at Ivar’s troops, reminding them that he’s Ragnar’s son. Ivar has been a tyrant to them, ruling them with cruelty. As he shouts, his voice goes hoarse, and suddenly, I’m reminded of Ragnar’s last words, and how his voice strained as if he was trying to reach the ears of his sons and the gods alike.
Sandi: That kind of sound is bred in exertion and passion and the desperate need to be understood. I think that was communicated well, here. Alexander Ludwig has inhabited his character for years and he knows Björn well. 

Lissa: Ivar orders his men to shoot him, but none of them move. He grabs a bow fires an arrow at him, but Björn blocks it easily with his shield. He shouts “YOU KNOW ME!” at the people, and they stand silent.

 Ivar looks awed himself as Björn drops the shield contemptuously and strides away, not looking back.
Sandi: Nice play by Björn. Yes they know him, but he knows them—at least well enough to trust his back to them when they didn't fire at him.

Lissa: Björn, Harald, Olaf, and Hvitserk regroup in a tent, discussing the battle. Harald says wearily that there’s no use trying to attack the gates again. They’ll never get through. Rain lashes down wildly as Olaf says in dire tones that many great warriors died this day and the crows are probably already feasting on their livers. If it was up to him, they’d leave and abandon this idea of attacking Kattegat. Hvitserk declares that he and Björn are sons of Ragnar and they don’t give up – apparently, even if it’s a bad idea.
SandiCheery fellow, Olaf . . . But then, he is not invested in this place, in the people, or even in the history. Olaf might see the benefit in renown, possible spoils, but his is not the heart-bond that the others have. Harald might not claim Kattegat as his own—yet—but he wants it. Badly. 

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Ivar is chastising his people, fury in his tone. He says when he tells his archers to kill someone, they have to do it. If he doesn’t have their absolute loyalty, they will all die together. As he shouts, the camera pans back to reveal about half a dozen hanging bodies – presumably the archers who failed to kill on his command.

Sandi: That was brutal, but effective, one supposes. All of this has to make Ivar's people wonder, though, if it wouldn't be a much better idea to go with Björn & Co., than to continue to suffer the tyrant. 

Lissa: Björn is back in his own quarters with Gunnhild. She’s talking about wanting her freedom. She wants to fight. She doesn’t want to be told what to do. She wants to ride wild horses. She pushes Björn back onto the bed and climbs on top of him. She says she might die tomorrow. So she wants him to impregnate her.
Sandi: I am unclear as to the purpose of the mid-battle sex romp, here, in terms of plot. The relationship is established, Gunnhild's character is established, and we don't even have to mention Björn's, right? So I'm thinking this was the "mandatory heated sex scene" or something for the episode. Because really, if Gunnhild does indeed get pregnant here, and we see a child later, it won't be a big mystery as to who the father is. Or at least, it shouldn't be!

Lissa: In the dark, a rider approaches the camp. It’s Freydis. She’s brought into the strategy tent where everyone is present and says that she’s come because she has something to say to them. She first tells Hvitserk that Thora is dead. He’s saddened… briefly. She says that Ivar killed her baby and calls him a monster. She goes on to say there’s a secret way into the city, one that was put in place by Ivar, so he could escape. She will unlock it tomorrow morning and let them in. She departs with the statement that she wants to see Ivar strung up in a tree.
Sandi: Honestly, I had hoped for more emotional investment on Hvitserk's part, here. But the woman's name was Thora . . . the Name of Doom for this series, so perhaps it is not to be wondered at? Freydis's betrayal is timely. There had to be a way to defeat Ivar and reclaim Kattegat and his war machine (such as it was, in this time and place) was nigh on impregnable. So, enter the betrayer and make it happen!

Lissa: The boys discuss her after she leaves. Can they trust her? They decide they don’t have any other choice.

Sandi: Looking a gift horse in the mouth is not a bad idea if the horse is possibly Trojan in origin, but time is short and . . . they run on their guts.

Lissa: Freydis returns home and tries to slide into bed without waking Ivar, but he isn’t asleep. She tells him that they’re attacking the walls, and Ivar says he doesn’t think he needs to get out of bed for that.
Sandi: The direction for his was, as always, well done. The dramatic pause Freydis makes before entering The Lair of Her Abusive Husband. The way the camera catches the width of their shared bed so you can see Ivar's still, tense features as he maybe is pretending to sleep while she re-enters the bed. The light catching Freydis's face as she offers him her cover story for being away. All of it works for the eventual outcome between the two of them. 

Lissa: When Ivar goes outside the next morning, Kattegat is filled with soldiers. Björn shouts at Ivar’s troops that they don’t need to fight. They can stay in their homes. All they want is Ivar. Most of the troops seem willing to stand down, but a few do fight the invaders. While they’re occupied, Ivar turns and strides back into the hall. The point of his iron crutch digs into the wood as he stomps his way through the room. He calls for Freydis and tells her he needs her. She comes forward.

SandiI confess to being a bit surprised that Ivar doesn't surface (at least publicly) until the next morning. Has he a spy of his own, trained upon Freydis? So that Ivar is fully cognizant of her movements already? It is entirely possible. Much of his behind-the-scenes in this section are shrouded in mystery. But not his intent upon his wife, not once he does that little turn-around. The scene is set for the end of their mutual story and they both have their eyes wide and calmly open. 

Lissa: He tells her the soldiers in the town could only be there if someone let them in. She agrees. He asks her, almost in a pleasant tone, if she’s not going to even deny it. She says no, she’ll admit that she let them in. On the body of their dead son, she’ll admit it.

Sandi:  Her intent and lack of fear are entirely clear and singular. There is no sense of fatalism in her face; she appears to be having a meeting of some import, but nothing more. It struck me as odd, but she has been plotting for the entire season, for one purpose or another. 

Lissa: Ivar drops his crutch to the floor with a clang. He touches Freydis’s face, and then spins her around in his arms so her back is to him.

He kisses her neck and tells her he loves her. She’s the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened to him. Then he whips out a cord and encircles her neck with it. He must have had it with him already, which is chilling, if you think about it. He falls back with her to the ground, where he’s more powerful, and pulls the cord taut against her throat. He tells her he loves her as he chokes the life from her, that he’ll weep for her later.
SandiI had to hand it to Ivar for the way in which he orchestrated her demise. Step by step, including of using his own disability in his favor, he had this planned to a fine line. Bravo, again, to the History Channel for how this went down. [Is it weird to applaud a murder of this sort? Probably, but . . . yeah.]

Lissa:  Freydis had her lover strangled after he secretly impregnated her, and now she meets death the same way.

SandiPoetic justice? Maybe? The unnamed father of her baby didn't seem to meet his end with the same sangfroid, however. 

Lissa: Ivar’s increasing violence toward Freydis seemed to make this an inevitable conclusion to the story, and the fact she was willing to admit what she’d done to may indicate she knew he was going to kill her. She could have escaped, but she waited for him there and admitted to betraying him, knowing what he did to others he felt had wronged him. For whatever reason, she walked into death’s hands willingly.

Maybe she felt the people of Kattegat would never forgive her for her role in encouraging Ivar’s megalomaniac tendencies. Once was a king, their power dynamic shifted dramatically. Her life was always in his hands, and so was her child’s. His increasing cruelty toward her was chilling. We knew he wasn’t really capable of love—the affection he professed was always hollow. He’s never had love, as he told her, but it’s because he’s incapable of feeling it.

Sandi: The most honest emotion I think we saw from him was when he was contemplating the life of the unborn child that he subsequently exposed to die. There was hope there, and he might have loved that hope, but that was about it.

Lissa: But she took Ivar’s kingdom from him, as he took the life of her son from her. She had revenge, but won’t live to see it.

SandiIt is a selfless way to enact revenge, as I think about it. I have to believe she was also avenging her dead son. That kind of motivation would have been enough to prompt her actions and to ensure she followed through, no matter what.

Lissa: Outside, Björn, Hvitsy, and Harald are still fighting the remnants of Ivar’s men. Björn falls and has an ax blade at his throat when Harald and Gunnhild spot him. Harald smiles, just a bit, and Gunnhild glances over at him. After just a tiny bit of a pause, Harald springs into action and saves Björn.
Sandi: We kind of riffed off that on twitter, saying that Gunnhild had said she'd marry a king, but not which one... and here she'd gone and had Björn give her a child (as she indicated) but what if Harald became her husband...? Anyway..yeah. Harald did give the matter a tiny bit of thought but decided to do the right thing. He does grow on one, doesn't he? 

Lissa: He’s injured in the process, but Björn stops to check on him. They share a quick moment of bro-ness.
Sandi: They are an interesting pair of war-bros. There is mutual respect and wariness that serves them well in this circumstance. 

Lissa: Björn and Hvitsy head into the hall, shouting for Ivar and demanding he surrender. He’s not there, but Freydis is. She’s laid out on the bed, and the bones of her son are laid out next to her. Björn drops his head in a moment of sorrow.

Where did the bones come from? Apparently, when Freydis told Ivar that the hunters had found “what was left” of their baby, they’d brought the body back to her, though I don’t remember that detail being mentioned. I’m assuming they must have had the bones… cleaned? And then Ivar kept them instead of burying them? And now he has them neatly laid out in their own display case beside the corpse of the baby’s dead mother?

SandiIf the bones were brought back to her, then she'd likely have had them kept for whatever reason, perhaps for later burial, perhaps as a token of the mess she'd made for herself in terms of her relationship with Ivar. IF Ivar had confiscated them instead, then he was likely keeping them for some kind of nefarious purpose or future emotional torment of his wife. He knew where they were, regardless, and he knew how to make a scene with them. 

Lissa: They head outside looking for Ivar, but he’s not there. He has escaped. But the battle is won and Kattegat is theirs. After a building of tension that's spanned several episodes, it was a bit of a let-down. However, it wasn't a let-down for too long. Olaf hands Björn one of Ivar’s flags and says it’s a new year for Kattegat. To Björn’s surprise, Ubbe comes up and draws Björn into a hug. Behind him, Lagertha walks up. Björn is amazed to see her alive. She holds up Ragnar’s sword, the one he won from King Horik and says it’s the sword of kings. She shouts “All hail King Björn!” The crowd begins to chant it.

SandiIn other battles, Lagertha has been front and center, but not in this one. She's been out of sight, from even her own son. Her appearance was an obvious show of stagecraft, but she's an able leader and knows well how to create a moment, you know? 

Lissa: I need to pause here a moment and wonder about where the sword was all this time. I imagine it wasn’t used as a battle sword, because of its precious significance. (Remember Horik showing it to his son?) But how would Lagertha have gotten it after her divorce from Ragnar? Did he hide it somewhere in Kattegat before he went off on his little decade-long sabbatical? I can’t remember Lagertha ever holding it when she was queen of Kattegat, and even if she did, she lost everything before her return.

SandiThe sword. Okay. So in Old Norse culture, the father's sword (or other major weapon) was often buried with him and then exhumed upon the occasion of his eldest son's wedding to present to that son as a token of his manhood or ascent to Head of Family—it was ceremonial. I am not sure at all, though, what happened with Ragnar's sword before his death; clearly he didn't have it with him before he met his doom. The idea of him having a place for it that Lagertha would have known and kept utterly secret is not outside the realm of comprehension, even after all that has gone on in the intervening span of time.

Lissa: Björn holds the sword aloft and behind him we see the carnage of battle, bodies strewn over the ground, and the blade drenched in blood. His eyes look up to the heavens, and droplets of blood stream down his forehead, like a crown of crimson. The scene fades and then he’s seated on a cliff, overlooking Kattegat. His shoulders are draped in furs and he has the sword propped against one shoulder. His father once sat in the same spot, in the same pose.

SandiAgain, History Channel does the Remember Ragnar montage to good effect. Twitter was all atwitter (sorry, I had to) with tweets about the sword moment! 

Lissa: And now Björn hears his voice, asking him what it is to have power, power that tricks and corrupts.

Sandi: It is suitable that Björn, as his father did before him, retires to a quiet place on the heights upon his ascension to the kingship of this place. That he contemplates the responsibilities and pitfalls of kingship. 

 Shakespeare wrote: 
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king?
Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

- King Henry, Act III, Scene 1, Lines 26-31

 I can't help but think that Björn would have totally understood this.

Lissa: The Seer’s voice then overcomes Ragnar’s and says that it’s come to pass. The future foretold by the dark raven. Björn asks what will become of him, and the Seer tells him the name of Björn Ironside will never be forgotten and will surpass the fame of Ragnar Loðbrók. But the war is not yet over. The Seer smiles and puts a finger to his lips. Björn asks if any of this is real, but the Seer is gone.

SandiWas Björn questioning his circumstances? His musings? His memory? Or was he just reaching out with incredulity, overwhelmed. When a goal long-sought is attained, it can be disorienting. Still, well-played. And appropriate, I think, as there is still another season before us. 

Lissa: The last image we see is of Ivar seated on the back of a wagon, being drawn away in what appears to be a group of traders. He takes a knife from a small pouch on his belt, and his piercing eyes look up, furious and filled with hatred.

SandiI was relieved that we got to see Ivar and his trusted factotum, stepping anonymously out of Kattegat, it is presumed. Björn is alone in his triumph as we leave him and Ivar is all but alone in his anger as he leaves us. Poetic, isn't it? I am very eager for Season Six. The tales of the Ragnarssons aren't over yet. Look for us, the #ShieldGeeks, on twitter when we go back to Kattegat next season!

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next fall for the final season!

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

The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS 5.19 "What Happens in the Cave"

“They're nice women, really. They just know a lot about hangings." 

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 fifth 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 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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Hey, everyone! Lissa here. I’m on my own this week because Sandi is traveling, so you’re going to have just me narrating the episode without Sandi’s interjections of wisdom. But she’ll be back next week for the finale and the next-day analysis. 

The title of this episode made me speculate all week long. Was it going to be somehow based on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? And I think I see a vague connection, but more about that later.

 We start out with Floki making his way through the Gnat Cave of Mystery, holding a torch aloft for light.

The cave is unstable, with ominous rumbles and falling rock that Floki says is the anvils of the dwarves. He follows the sound deeper into the earth, and, he believes, toward the gods themselves.

Next, we head to Wessex, where everyone is strangely still and silent. The whole city stands as if they’re transfixed to their spots, their heads bowed. The only sound is the mournful toll of a church bell. Inside the palace, everyone is gathered in Judith’s bedroom. Alfred hovers over his mother, his hand clasping hers. As we watch, Judith takes her last, shuddering breath and goes still.

Alfred kisses her hand and begins to weep. Lagertha steps up from behind him and offers wise counsel. He should not mourn for Judith. She spent her life trying to get him where he is, King of Wessex, and she lived to see that victory. Now his task is to become the great king she knew he would be. Alfred the Great. Get it? (Sometimes this show just wallops you over the head with the message.) His people now need him to be strong.

Lagertha leaves the chamber and walks down the hall, her pace a bit jolting from the limp her leg injury left her with. Suddenly, she is dizzy and falls against a wall. She’s transported back in memory.

She sees the battle and Heahmund’s death. Through a mist, she sees a shrouded figure and follows after it, only to collapse. We next see her lying in a bed in the hut of the herb-woman Judith consulted about her cancer. The herb woman tells Lagertha that she was on the verge of death when the herb-woman found her, and her old life is dead, but now she has been reborn. She pulls out a knife. Lagertha whimpers as she approaches and holds up her hands helplessly to ward her off, but the herb-woman intends no harm. She leans down and cuts off Lagertha’s braid and throws it into the fire.
Ubbe begins his battle with King Frodo. The rules of the battle are announced beforehand, all civilized-like. I half expected them to walk ten paces. Frodo’s first powerful sword swing breaks Ubbe’s shield and he has to request another. The fight is incredibly brutal and bloody as they resort to scrapping on the ground.
Both men are exhausted and injured. Ubbe is thrown to the ground and he stares up at the sky with his blue eyes wide.

 He tries to pray a Christian prayer, but suddenly he begins to pray to the gods of his father. It gives him the strength he needs to reach for a blade, and when Frodo tries to chop him with his ax, Ubbe leaps up and stabs him.

 As the crowd stares at Frodo falling to the ground, dead, Torvi grabs another of the kings (I think it was the one who dissed her for talking during the meeting) and runs him through with her blade. Ubbe drops into the leaf litter, seriously injured, staring sightlessly at the sky.

Torvi kneels over him. And honest-to-heaven, she's wearing a chainmail headband. She calls out that he was the winner – the son of Ragnar was the winner. The men begin to chant his name and pound their shields, but he cannot hear them. She has him put on a wagon to be transported back to the palace.

She sees Lagertha in the yard and they have a quick, but joyful reunion. Lagertha says jokingly that Torvi can see she’s nearly impossible to kill. But they both turn back in concern to the injured Ubbe.

 Freydis is shouting at Ivar, demanding to know where her baby is. It’s light outside, which means it would be at least twelve hours since Ivar slipped outside with the baby in his arms. Ivar munches on an apple (a rather crisp apple, given that in the story, it’s late winter and the Vikings didn’t have trade routes with California for year-round produce.)

He drops carelessly into a chair as she throws small objects at him. He gets angry at her and says she promised him a beautiful child. She says the baby was their child and grapples with him. He slaps her.

Floki finally makes it to the center of the cave, and he’s stunned to find a Christian cross has been erected in the center. He giggles a little at first, turning into chuckles, and then into sobbing laughter. He falls to his knees, moaning and crying with anguish.

 His screams echo through the cave and rocks fall. A rumble tears through it and an explosion comes from the top of the volcano. A cascade of ash and rock sweeps down the side.

We all wondered about this on Twitter.
Last week, there was a lot of protest of Aud’s death since she’s credited with bringing Christianity to Iceland, and commanding her own ships. Perhaps Floki finding Christianity where he expected to find the home of the gods speaks to their presence in Iceland, despite the fact he thought it would be a home only for those who were firm in the faith of the Northmen’s gods.

But this is what I was talking about when I mentioned the Allegory of the Cave at the beginning of the post. In Plato’s story, the men in the cave are trapped in there, unaware of the outside world. They could only guess at what was out there from the shadows dancing on the walls of their prison, shadows they interpreted as best they could. A man who was dragged from the cave, Plato said, would fight and resist, and would be in pain from the bright lights he’d never seen before. When he returned, his eyes would be blinded by the darkness, and his fellow prisoners would think his sight had been damaged by the experience. They would be terrified of having their own illusions shattered and would refuse to leave what they knew.

Floki has gone into the cave and his illusions have been shattered by what the flickering light revealed. (At this point, I wish Sandi were here to comment, because I betcha she’d have a great insight into this, so please pretend she has added a brilliant comment here.)

Björn’s ships are being tossed by a violent storm. Harald shouts at Björn that he told him so.

Near the prowl of the ship, Magnus kneels, clutching a rope. He calls out for Jesus to save him. Amma, a Viking shieldmaiden that Björn asked to watch over Magnus, turns to him with surprise and asks him why he’s praying to the Christian god. She challenges him later after the ship approaches land and Magnus claims he lived with the Saxons for a long while and had to pretend to worship their god.
She asks why he would call out to that same god if he didn’t believe, and doesn’t get a straight answer. As they get off the ships, Amma asks Björn if he knew his little brother was a Christian.
When they land, Harald bristles at Björn telling him where they’ll go next. He says that it’s his army. Björn demands to know if Harald has changed his mind. Is he going to attack Kattegat and Ivar or not? Harald says maybe he will, maybe he won’t. If Björn wants to command his army, he’ll have to kill Harald, and if Harald wants to rejoin Ivar, he’ll have to kill Björn. He says he knows Björn Ironside is supposedly unkillable, blessed by the gods, but he thinks Björn is just a man like any other. He pulls his blade.

 The two men begin to fight and then Gunnhild steps between them. She strikes Björn and demands they stop. They’ll be able to fight over Kattegat once it’s taken. Björn and Harald bump arms like. “‘kay, bro,” and go their separate ways.

Lagertha rides with Alfred as he goes out to show the Vikings their new lands. She’s wearing what can most charitably be referred to a Renaissance-styled prom dress and a black headband which holds back her tastefully tousled beach waves. The gown is green, snug to the figure with wide, arrow-like detailing over the bodice.
Alfred speaks to the Vikings and formally cedes them the land. He tells them, quite kindly, we all thought, that the land is blessed by God and their gods, too.

Lagertha gets off her horse and picks up a handful of earth. “Are you watching this, Ragnar?” she asks. This was his dream, and it’s come to pass.

Ivar limps his way through his hall as his people stare. He tries to wave it off, and then orders them sharply to go back to what they’re doing. It’s an abrupt change from his theatrical methods of having them come in to the room to have him revealed with a flourish in his seat of power, his disability carefully concealed. Now, he’s a flesh-and-blood man walking among them, and obviously struggling with his painful braces.

He goes back behind the throne to meet with Freyids. She tells him that their child has been found, or what was left of him. Hunters found the baby’s corpse in the woods, after it had been dragged to a fox den. She’s furious at Ivar for what he’s done.

He demands to know whether it was his baby and strangles her until she almost passes out, the second time he’s been physically abusive to her this episode.

She stares up at him with a strange expression on her face.
Olaf and Hvitserk are approaching Kattegat. They pause to chat a bit, and Olaf expresses doubts that he’s made the right decision.

 Hvitsy says the gods work in mysterious ways. Olaf frets that they could all be willingly marching to their deaths. Then he looks over at Hvitserk and they both laugh ruefully.
Torvi is at Ubbe’s bedside. He’s still recovering from his injuries. He asks Torvi to bring him his cross. He holds it up and says it’s just an object to him. When he was in danger of losing his life, he called out to the gods and their spirits filled him. Torvi asks him if he’s no longer a Christian. Ubbe says he wasn’t ever really a Christian. He wanted the benefits that being a Christian would give to him, and his people. Torvi climbs into bed beside him.
Ubbe and Torvi pack up their wagon to go. Alfred meets with them and asks God’s blessings on him and his family. Ubbe nods and pops one of Torvi’s kids in the wagon. Lagertha rides up behind them and asks to come. She wants to go “home,” with them.

It will be an interesting dynamic. While we know Lagertha probably won’t be able to settle down to a peaceful life as a farmer, it would be interesting to see how the power structure between herself, Ubbe, and Torvi comes to settle. Torvi has Lagertha’s grandsons in tow, but Ubbe is not Lagertha’s son, and their relationship would always be a smidge uneasy. Torvi has always been fiercely loyal to Lagertha, but now her loyalty belongs to her husband and children. Ubbe is now the de facto leader of this colony, but Lagertha was once known as the Queen of the Vikings -- or to the Northmen, Queen of Kattegat. To obey her stepson would be a little bit of a hard pill to swallow, one would think.

Björn finds a military camp and enters one of the tents. He finds Hvitserk eating at the table. He asks him why he’s here, at the head of such a large army. Hvitserk admits that he’s going to Kattegat for the same reason as Björn – to attack Ivar. Björn stares at him for a fraction of a second and then grabs him into a hug. They will join forces to attack. Hvitserk says that he’s always been unsure what his fate was, but now he knows. His destiny is to kill Ivar.
Ivar speaks to his people from his throne. He tells them that he and Freydis had a beautiful child, a child that he loved, but the gods took it away. He glances over at Freydis and says it’s hard for a mother to accept, but the gods will not be denied. The crowd gasps softly in sympathy. He tells them that Hvitserk was supposed to bring Olaf’s army because they were going to invade York and add it to Kattegat’s empire, but Hvitsy has not returned. An invasion is imminent, but they will strengthen Kattegat’s defenses and it will never fall.

 As his people cheer, he stands and holds out a hand to Freydis. She takes it reluctantly and pulls away as soon as possible, wiping her hand on her dress, or soothing her flattened belly.
And so, the stage is set. Two armies are about to converge on Kattegat. Lagertha begins a new life. And Floki is dealing with the devastation of shattered faith.

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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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