Spotlight on . . . The Last Berserker
This is an occasional blog series in which I highlight one of my published books and give a little background on the writing of it. This week it is The Last Berserker, the first novel in my Fire Born series.
I had long wanted to write a Viking series but I was aware how crowded the market was for this type of novel. I was looking for some way to differentiate my books from some of the other, often superb offerings out there. So I started thinking about berserkers. Who were these terrifying madmen who cropped up in the sagas as “Odin’s men”? Why did they fight so recklessly? Why were they so suicidally brave?
It seemed obvious to me that Odin’s men must be driven by their pagan religion – by their own Viking belief systems – and that we, as 21st century outsiders, must struggle to understand the culture of battle and honour they lived in, their relationship with the natural world and their notions of post-mortem reward.
While I was doing this, purely by coincidence, I was also reviewing some of my own work in the field of social anthropology, which I did when I was a studying for a Masters degree at Edinburgh University. I did several months research in rural Indonesia into spirit possession, and actually witnessed people being inhabited by gods and demons. I saw fire-walkers in Bali who were possessed by the spirits of ancient heroes (pictured below). I had also heard of the phenomenon of people in the region running “amok”, that is when someone perfectly ordinary falls into a killing frenzy and starts murdering all their neighbours indiscriminately.
The bizarre mental state of modern Malays who run amok reminded me of Viking berserkers. The Indonesians and Malaysians say that someone who has run amok has been possessed by a spirit of a tiger. And suddenly a metaphorical lightbulb went on in my head. Berserkers were possessed by the spirit of a bear, as Malays were possessed by a spirit of a tiger. Berserkers were actually running amok.
Once I had made this leap, I began to build a fictional world in which warriors worshipped in bear cults, and wore bear skins, to demonstrate their high status as berserkers – which is historically accurate, since bear cults were a feature of Germanic pagan culture since before the Romans. And the wearing of animal skins (which make excellent sword-repelling armour) is widespread in warrior cultures. Our own British Grenadier wear bearskin hats because they are the spiritual descendants of bear-cult warriors.
So out of all this, my novel The Last Berserker was born. I set the story in the age of Charlemagne to further distinguish it from others in the genre, and it seems to be doing well. I am writing the fifth book in the series – Blood of the Bear – at this moment. And there may be more in the Fire Born series to come.
The Last Berserker (Fire Born 1) is available from Amazon as an eBook, audio book or paperback. If you want to know more about the background to the novel, or the series, follow this link to my other blogs.