Brian Wood has always been a favorite writer of mine from the moment I read the first volume of his near future series DMZ, where civil war in the United States has transformed Manhattan into a demilitarized zone (hence the name of the title). So when I learned that he was writing a historical fiction series about Vikings (Northlanders) I couldn’t have been more excited. Over its entire run (collected in seven volumes) Northlanders explored self-contained tales of Vikings from the perspective of conquers or those being conquered by the north men. Last year, the last volume of the series came out and from my stand point it may be one of the best things written, ever. This arc, entitled The Icelandic Trilogy, examines the four generations of the Hauksson family, who came to Iceland before it was inhabited, and in their time established a system of power, through what would now be considered an organized crime. And the payoff could not have been any better. The sweeping epic examines the struggle with Christianity, war with rival families, and the eventuality that all wars, be they for money, power, or prestige, must come to an end regardless of struggle. I, being a fan of seeing the rise and fall of people in power, really appreciated that aspect of the story, but what is really unique to this story is its setting, Iceland and the rich history of blood feuds, land barons, and king-lessness that propagate its founding which we have come to know through its sagas.
Continue reading after the jump for more on Northlanders: The Icelandic Trilogy and how it ties into Icelandic History
Settlement Era: The first arc of the story ties the fictional Hauksson family into the founding of Iceland during the ninth century. At the time, most settlers coming to the area were Norse and they for the most part were fleeing the rule of the first Norse king, Harold the fair-haried and landseekers who heard about the large tracts of land available for the taking. But eventually the land would run out and due to the subartic ecosystem of Iceland and its limited resources, feuds between families and settlements. These “blood feuds”, as witnessed in Northlanders through the Hauksson’s rivalry with (…), would become a staple of Iceland due to the non-hierarchal system of government (lack of centralized government and military).
Commonwealth Era: The second arc which takes place during the late-tenth century follows Christianity’s introduction and power grab and also introduces the governing body of Iceland, the Althing. The Althing, was a national assembly of chieftains (which the Haukssons became after consolidating power in the first arc) which would meet every Jun on the Thingvellir (a plain in southwestern Iceland). Here blood feuds, legal disputes, and general grievances, would be work out in front of a judge.
The Age of Sturlungs: The last arc takes placed during the thirteenth century and covers the civil wars that proceeded it’s conquest by the Norse king, Haakon IV. By this time certain families (one of which is the fictional Hauksson family) began to dominate Iceland in terms of decision making and wealth. One family, the Stulusons, swore an allegiance to Haakon, who enabled the family to begin a civil war against the other families in Iceland. This war, that the Hauksson’s would become involved with, would pave the way to Iceland’s loss of independence to Norway.
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