We Hae Books

The Orkneyinga Saga


I didn’t read a Scottish book last month so I was determined to read one this month despite it being Norsevember. Luckily I had an option; this Icelandic history book written around 1200 but following Norse Earls of Orkney.

Like The Saga of the Voslungs I reviewed earlier in the month, this is a work of medieval literature. It is the only known work from this period set on the Orkney isles. In 1266 The Treaty of Perth was signed to signal peace between Scotland and Norway so while this was written the two countries were still fighting over territory (Norway would own Orkney and Shetland for another 200 years). This means that the events are naturally mostly concerned with battle and land control. Like the other saga it’s very dry to read and I struggled with it a lot more. This could be down to my own mood while I read it but it’s bordering on dull if you’re looking for a casual, quick read. I cannot understate how important a work this is for students of Norse history so if you are interested in studying the subject properly you can’t really skip it. If you’re looking for an enjoyable read, give this a miss.

That said I didn’t completely hate this. I enjoyed reading about St Magnus the most as that’s still the name of their largest religious building, St Magnus’ Cathedral in Kirkwall. It’s a gorgeous building and has some fascinating burial markers inside that’s well worth a visit if you’re ever on the islands.

Although the events are political as well as about simple conquest it is a nice look at the attitudes and beliefs of the times. There’s also a smattering of poetry throughout. After a while all the names started to blend together and I lost track so you do need to concentrate and/or refer to the genealogy and glossary at the back. My edition was also well organised with information in notes at the back including the page numbers certain events took place so that was an appreciated level of detail.

To sum up, I’d recommend this to students and hobbyists of Norse, Scottish or medieval history but I’d suggest the casual reader steers clear. Never before has a short book felt so long. It’s probably one to dip into here and there rather than reading through.