Harrison, Harry. The Hammer and the Cross.

NY: Tor, 1993.

The late Harry Harrison is best known for his rather tongue-in-cheek science fiction, especially the “Deathworld” and “Stainless Steel Rat” series. But he also had a more straightforward side, as with this first volume in a trilogy set in 9th-century England, and focusing on the invasion of the Viking Great Army, led by the four sons of the murdered Ragnar Lothbrok.

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Holland, Cecelia. Two Ravens.

NY: Knopf, 1977.

Holland has written more than thirty novels in the past forty-plus years, and while all of them have been (to my mind) at least above average, her style has changed somewhat over time. This one is from her “early period,” which means short declarative sentences, a straightforward and unadorned narrative style, and a tendency to under-explain, to let the reader draw his own conclusions as to the characters’ motivations and inner mental workings.

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Holland, Cecelia. Varanger.

NY: Tor, 2008.

Holland, who is almost exactly my age, has been writing historical fiction since college, and I’ve been an avid reader of her work since the beginning. She’s covered the whole length and breadth of history and geography in that time. Lately, she’s been doing a series about early medieval Norse/Irish culture featuring settlers in Vinland and the wars of Sven Forkbeard and the introduction of Scandinavian fighting men into 10th-century Constantinople.

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Holland, Cecelia. The High City.

NY: Forge, 2009.

Holland, one of the very best historical novelists in the business, is almost exactly my age. She wrote her first book, The Firedrake (about the Norman invasion of England), as an undergraduate and I read it the summer after I graduated from college. That was thirty-plus novels ago and I’ve read each of them with great appreciation as they appeared. I even collect First Editions of her work. Not all of them are of equally high quality, of course — but even her relatively weakest stories are far, far above those of most other writers.

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Cornwell, Bernard. Lords of the North.

NY: HarperCollins, 2007.

Originally, I thought Cornwell’s engaging, entertaining, and very well-written story of the struggles of King Alfred (“the Great”) to preserve England as an English land was going to be a trilogy, ending with the Battle of Edington, the treaty with Guthrum, and the establishment of the Danelaw. It appears, however, that he’s going for the full franchise. The series is up to five volumes now, and still growing. And that’s fine with me because he’s doing such a good job at it!

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Cornwell, Bernard. The Pale Horseman.

NY: HarperCollins, 2006.

Young Uhtred of Northumbria, ejected from his birthright, and having been raised by the Danes though he’s technically Anglo-Saxon, has developed into a fearsome warrior, the sort of fighter who has found a home in the shield wall. In the climactic battle of the previous volume (this is the second in the series), he killed Ubbe, one of the three Lothbrok brothers whose invasion of England has conquered three of the island’s four kingdoms, leaving only Wessex under the decidedly non-warrior-like Alfred to maintain the possibility of an English nation.

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