... brilliant and unusually wide-ranging ... Jarman, a Scandinavian archaeologist based in Britain who did her PhD on the Repton charnel, is the perfect person to resolve this conundrum, and she does so with great skill, clarity and narrative drive. For Jarman likes her Vikings violent, and her tale — replete with witches, human sacrifice, Greek fire and funeral orgies — is at least as lively as any Netflix Viking romp, and a great deal more intellectually satisfying ... It helps that she has an enviable gift for turning dry archaeological data into thrilling human stories as she weaves cutting-edge science with chronicles, histories and Nordic sagas, moving effortlessly from laboratory readings of strontium and carbon-14 to the tales of the Icelandic bard Snorri Sturluson and legends of the Valkyries. In this way she gradually reveals the extraordinary history of the Vikings’ activity from Greenland and the Baltic to the walls of Constantinople and the bazaars of Baghdad. Some of it was peaceful; much of it was not ... After putting down my trowel in Repton, I left Viking archaeology to swim in the warmer waters of India’s ocean, and reading River Kings seemed to bring two disparate halves of my life together in the most wonderful and unexpected way. But the book — one of the most thrilling works of archaeological detective work I have ever read — will cast a spell on any reader who enjoys their history well-written and clearly argued. Just as Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad reminded us that the eastern front of the second world war was of far greater consequence than its western theatre, so Jarman shows how the westward trading and slaving voyages of the Vikings were only half the story. The real source of Viking wealth lay far to the east.
... a mystery and an adventure ... In addition to being a wonderful writer, Jarman is a skilled bioarchaeologist ... like a classical symphony, perfectly composed and exquisitely performed. Tiny trills of detail give way to pounding drums of drama. Fur-clad Volga boatmen carry us relentlessly towards the exotic. Along the way, Jarman takes a sledgehammer to fantasies of ethnic purity.
Vikings, both fictional and historical, seem to be everywhere at the moment, and as a result there are more books being published on the topic than even the most ardent aficionado could be expected to read, many of them having little new to say. It is thus quite an achievement for Cat Jarman to have written a book which not only has new things to say to those who have read many other books about Vikings, but also provides an engaging introduction to the study of the Vikings for those who are new to the subject ... While opening up the eastern Viking Age to a general audience, Jarman also inducts the reader into the range and wealth of evidence with which Viking scholars grapple. As well as bones and beads, sagas, chronicles and runic inscriptions play their part alongside Thor’s hammers and clinker-built ships in this rich tale of discovery.