What I’m writing about this week, #11: The Amber Road

The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) is nearly done – and will be out this summer; I’m working the final part of the second draft now and so I thought I would tell you a bit about Bjarki and Tor’s next adventure. It concerns a trade route, known as the Amber Road, which runs from northern Russia to the Mediterranean.

My heroes Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir don’t travel the whole route, only the middle section from modern-day Gdansk to an old Roman town near Vienna, but they manage to pack in plenty of action. The Amber Road, or Route, has been used for thousands of years – pre-Roman anyway, and it exists as an artery to allow amber – fossilised pine resin – to be transported to the shores of the Adriatic.

Amber can be picked up, literally gathered by casual walkers, on the beaches of the southern Baltic, where it is regularly washed up by the sea. The pagan Baltic tribes used to bring it down to Venice, where it sold in the Roman markets for many times its value in the north, and the trade continued and continues to this day. Amber varies enormously in quality and colour from a pale straw hue to deep blood red, and occasionally you find insects trapped inside these gorgeous glowing jewels. Mosquitoes, flies, ants and so on crawled on the pine trees in the distant past and got stuck in the sticky sap, which preserved them for thousands of years when that particular drop of resin is fossilised into amber (see below).

You might remember that this was a plot point in the movie Jurassic Park – a mosquito containing the blood (and DNA) of an extinct dinosaur was extracted from Baltic amber and used to grow new dinosaurs in a lab. Apparently, this is not actually possible, but it made for a pretty great movie, so who cares . . .

In the 8th century (in which my Fire Born series is set) the trade was going strong with high demand for amber in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. It was transported along the Silk Route as far as China. Jewellery has been made from amber since prehistory, and the Russian tsars were especially keen on the substance. Below is a stunning chandelier from Kaliningrad in Russia made entirely from Baltic amber.

In The Loki Sword, Bjarki and Tor are engaged as bodyguards by a Lombard merchant and tasked with safeguarding a valuable consignment of amber from the mouth of the River Vistula to the Danube. They are also trying to find a “magic” sword wielded by an ancient King of the Goths. They and their comrades travel by ship and on foot but dark forces are determined to prevent them succeeding in their quest.

And Bjarki has finally managed to get rid of his gandr – the animal spirit that gives him the ferocity of a berserker in battle. So fighting off the bad guys is a little more difficult than usual. To find out what happens in this third Fire Born adventure, you will have to buy the book when it comes out in August. But you can pre-order it here as an ebook. I hope you do and you enjoy it when it comes out! If you haven’t read The Last Berserker (Fire Born 1) and The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2), get them by clicking on the links.

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