Spotlight on . . . The Saxon Wolf

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 Saxon Wolf, the second novel in my Fire Born series.

This was the second outing for my heroes Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir and while the Fire Born series is billed as a set of “Viking” stories, like the first book, the second one also mostly takes place in Saxony during the long brutal wars between the pagan tribes of north Germany and the Christian Franks, under the command off a great man (called Karolus in my novels) who would later become Charlemagne.

Nobody, so far, has taken issue with my characterisation of the Old Saxons as a kind of land-based Vikings. To be honest, I was expecting more push-back. My reasoning for depicting them as such was thus: the Saxons worshipped the same gods as the people in Scandinavia, Odin, Thor, Freya and so on, although with different names, and lived very close to them, too, at the base of the Jutland peninsula. I believe their culture was similar to that of the Danes, and certainly the King of the Danes (Siegfried in my book) was always their staunch ally against the Franks. Both cultures used the metaphor of a divine World Tree – the Yggdrasil (below) for the Norse, the Irminsul, for the Saxons – to order the universe.

Their methods of fighting – shield walls, not much use of cavalry, a raiding or hit-and-run approach – were similar to the Vikings. And the Vikings were never a homogenous group anyway. I suspect that the 8th-century Danes who fought against Charlemagne were very different to the 11th-century Norwegians who ruled England. Anyway, that is how I have depicted the rebellious Saxons in the Fire Born series, as warlike, even heroic, axe-wielding, fur-clad warriors. Basically, the wild Vikings of popular imagination.

The Saxon Wolf of the title is a real historical character called Widukind (below), a Saxon nobleman who led the resistance against the Franks, using techniques such as ambush and guerrilla warfare in the thick forests of Germany, and rousing the common people time and again to fight their oppressors. I haven’t depicted him in a very positive light in The Saxon Wolf – I’ve made him a glib, rabble-rousing, shallow man – but, in truth, I think he must have been a very charismatic and extraordinarily brave fellow to have fought for so long against such an overwhelmingly superior foe. I will rehabilitate him in Book 5, I think.

The Saxon Wolf is the book in the Fire Born series which most closely follows history. I depict the events of Charlemagne’s invasion of Saxony and the various battles he fought with the various Saxon factions as accurately as possible. But it must be admitted that the original source material is scant. I based the whole campaign on about five or six paragraphs in the Royal Frankish Annals (written by Charlemagne’s monks, so hardly impartial). The pagans left no written records and so history is written very much by the victors in this case. The Saxons were defeated after 32 years of horrific carnage. In the end, Widukind was forced to convert to Christianity and submit to the Frankish yoke. But that story is for another day.

I hope you will enjoy revisiting The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2), or reading it for the first time. The first book in the series is called The Last Berserker, and you might like to start there. But The Saxon Wolf can be read as a standalone novel, too. I am currently writing Blood of the Bear (Fire Born 5) so, if you enjoy the series, you can relax in the knowledge that there are plenty more stories down the road for you to enjoy.

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