People of the Songtrail - Tor/Forge Blog

$2.99 eBook Sale: May 2020

$2.99 eBook Sale: May 2020

Welcome, May! We’re celebrating the warmer weather with some new, month long ebook deals. Check out what Tor eBooks you can grab for $2.99 throughout the entire month below:

Place holder  of - 62People of the Songtrail by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

On the shores of what is now northeastern Canada, a small group of intrepid settlers have landed, seeking freedom to worship and prosper far from the religious strife and political upheaval that plague a war-ridden Europe…500 years before Columbus set sail. While it has long been known that Viking ships explored the American coast, recent archaeological evidence suggests a far more vast and permanent settlement. It is from this evidence that archaeologists and early American history experts Kathy and Michael Gear weave their extraordinary tale.

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Poster Placeholder of - 47The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The traitor Baru Cormorant is now the cryptarch Agonist—a secret lord of the empire she’s vowed to destroy. Hunted by a mutinous admiral, haunted by the wound which has split her mind in two, Baru leads her dearest foes on an expedition for the secret of immortality. But Baru’s heart is broken, and she fears she can no longer tell justice from revenge…or her own desires from the will of the man who remade her.

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Placeholder of  -74Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

The limits of wonder are redrawn as a human expedition to another star system is jeopardized by an encounter with an astonishingly immense artifact in interstellar space: a bowl-shaped structure half-englobing a star, with a habitable area equivalent to many millions of Earths…and it’s on a direct path heading for the same system as the human ship.

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Image Placeholder of - 29The Impossible Contract by K. A. Doore

An assassin’s reputation can mean life or death. This holds especially true for Thana Basbowen, daughter of the legendary Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. When a top-tier contract drops in her lap — death orders against foreign ambassador Heru Sametket — Thana seizes the opportunity. Yet she may be in over her head. Heru wields blasphemous powers against his enemies, and Thana isn’t the only person after his life: even the undead pursue him, leaving behind a trail of horror.

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Image Place holder  of - 74Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton

As the lines between enemy and ally blur, Guillot dal Villerauvais is drawn farther into the life and service he had left far behind. Solène attempts to come to terms with the great magical talent she fears is as much a curse as a blessing, while the Prince Bishop’s quest for power twists and turns, and takes on a life of its own. With dragons to slay, and an enemy whose grip on the kingdom grows ever tighter, Gill and his comrades must fight to remain true to themselves, while standing at the precipice of a kingdom in peril.

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New Releases: 8/30/16

Here’s what went on sale today!

The Empty Ones by Robert Brockway

The Empty Ones by Robert BrockwayFollowing on the heels of Robert Brockway’s comedic horror novel The Unnoticeables, The Empty Ones reveals the next chapter in the lives of a few misfits attempting to fight back against the mysterious Unnoticeables. The Empty Ones follows Carey and Randall to London where they go to rescue Gus and fight more of these mysterious angel-like creatures, and stumble on a powerful and unexpected ally. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn, who was very nearly beat when last we saw her, continues her fight into the desert of Mexico and the Southwest US, seeking the mysterious gear cult. Once there, she discovers what the gear cult is really up to: trying to ‘pin’ the angels to Earth, focus their attention here, and get as much of humanity as possible “solved”–which, in their minds, is akin to being saved–and in the process discovers something incredible about herself.

High Stakes edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass

High Stakes edited by George R.R. Martin and Melinda SnodgrassAfter the concluding events of Lowball, Officer Francis Black of Fort Freak, vigilante joker Marcus “The Infamous Black Tongue” Morgan, and ace thief Mollie “Tesseract” Steunenberg get stuck in Talas, Kyrgyzstan. There, the coldblooded Baba Yaga forces jokers into an illegal fighting ring, but her hidden agenda is much darker: her fighters’ deaths serve to placate a vicious monster from another dimension. When the last line of defense against this world weakens, all hell breaks loose, literally…. The Committee in New York sends a team of aces to investigate. One by one, each falls victim to evil forces–including the dark impulses within themselves. Only the perseverance of the most unlikely of heroes has a chance of saving the world before utter chaos erupts on Earth. Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin, High Stakes features the writing talents of Melinda M. Snodgrass, John Jos. Miller, David Anthony Durham, Caroline Spector, Stephen Leigh, and Ian Tregillis.


Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

Gatefather by Orson Scott Card

Hell’s Foundations Quiver David Weber

People of the Songtrail by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

Trucker Ghost Stories edited by Annie Wilder

What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Willful Child by Steven Erikson


Angel Beats!: Heaven’s Door Vol. 2 by Jun Maeda

Monster Musume Vol. 9 by OKAYADO

Shomin Sample: I Was Abducted by an Elite All-Girls School as a Sample Commoner Vol. 2 Story by Nanatsuki Takafumi; Art by Risumai

See upcoming releases.


Magic in the 10th Century Viking Culture: The Seidur Tradition

People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear

Written by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

Let us first clarify that the Viking magical tradition called Seidur or Seidr, has been the inspiration for numerous modern shamanic movements–which are interesting in and of themselves– but for the purposes of this article, we are talking only about Viking Age evidence for this highly magical shamanism.

Seidur magic was Odin magic. Odin, who later became the chief god, was apparently merely a one-eyed war god when the 10th century began, but he was a powerful war god, and there are explicit descriptions of seidur magic in a number of medieval Icelandic texts. The most important of which are Edda’s Poems like Voluspa and Lokasenna, and great sagas, Gisli Sursson’s Saga, Eiriks saga rauda, and Hrolfs saga kraka, as well as Snorri’s Ynglingasaga.  

Seidur magic seems to have been largely the sphere of women. However, Odin himself is said to have practiced Seidur magic, and we have historical references to male Seidur seers. Such men were generally maligned for engaging in feminine activities. Seidur magic had several goals: (1) Prophecy. For example, in Eiriks saga rauda (chapter 4), the seeress is trying to gain knowledge of the future. In Edda’s poem , Voluspa, she is concerned with the fate of the gods, the coming of Ragnarok. (2) Controlling the weather, or people, both of which are documented in Gisli Sursson’s Saga (chapter 18), and The Saga of the People of Laxardal (chs. 35-37).

Seidur seers also gained supernatural knowledge through utiseta, which means they sat outside at night on graves and sought out the secret wisdom known only to the dead. To accomplish these goals, the seeress engaged in rites that included fasting, hanging, exposure to the cold, spirit journeys, ecstatic trance states and shape-shifting. Many seidur seers were apparently particularly adept at taking on the forms of bears and wolves.  As with other circumpolar shamanic traditions, we have hints that changing gender may have been part of some seidur intitation rites (see Meulengracht Sorensen 1980; 1983).  As Neil Price noted in his excellent article, The Archaeology of Seidr (Lewis-Simpson 2000, p. 278), “It would seem to be the apparent contradiction of Odinn’s role as both a male god and the master of seidr—these rituals that were primarily the province of women—that gives him such extensive power over the minds and movements of others, and particularly over the events of the battlefield.” It was the combination of male and female powers–the crossing of gender boundaries– that were the heart of seidur magic.

In conclusion, though it is rarely mentioned in books on Vikings, the highly magical seidur tradition was inextricably woven into the very fabric of Old Norse society. In fact, we would argue that you cannot understand Viking culture without an understanding of seidur seers and their magical influences.

Lewis-Simpson, Shannon. Vinland Revisited. The Norse World at the Turn of the First Millennium. Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Inc., 2000: 277-294.

Lewis-Simpson, Shannon. Vinland Revisited. The Norse World at the Turn of the First Millennium. Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Inc., 2000: 295-304.

Buy People of the Songtrail today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | iBooks | IndieBound | Powell’s

Follow the Gears on Twitter at @GearBooks, on Facebook, or visit them online.


Viking Warrior Women: Did ‘Shieldmaidens’ Like Lagertha Really Exist?

People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal GearWritten by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

As archaeologists, we’ve spent over thirty years studying warrior women from a variety of cultures around the world, and, we have to tell you, shieldmaidens pose a problem.

Stories of Viking warrior women are found in a number of historical documents, but several come from factually unreliable heroic sagas, fornaldarsogur. A good example is Hervor’s and Heidrek’s Saga. After the hero, Angantyr, falls in battle his daughter Hervor takes her father’s sword and uses it to avenge his death by killing his enemies. There are similar stories of Brynhilde and Freydis, in Sigurd’s Saga and the Saga of the Greenlanders. But in each case the story is more about myth-making than fact. As well, these are tales of individual women who are highly skilled with swords and fight in battles, but give no evidence for a ‘community’ of women warriors, which the shieldmaidens are supposed to have been.

There are, however, more reliable historical resources. In the 1070s, for example, Adam of Bremen (chronicling the Hamburg-Bremen archdiocese) wrote that a northern region of Sweden near lake Malaren was inhabited by war-like women. But he doesn’t say how many women, nor does he clarify what “war-like” means. Were these women just zealously patriotic, bad-tempered, aggressive, or maybe even too independent for his Medieval Christian tastes? It’s hard to say.

Then we have the splendid references to ‘communities’ of shieldmaidens found in the works of 12th century Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, whose writing is sure to make every modern woman livid. Keep in mind, Saxo was likely the secretary of the Archbishop of Lund, and had specific Christian notions about appropriate female behavior. He wrote, “There were once women in Denmark who dressed themselves to look like men and spent almost every minute cultivating soldiers’ skills. …They courted military celebrity so earnestly that you would have guessed they had unsexed themselves. Those especially who had forceful personalities or were tall and elegant embarked on this way of life. As if they were forgetful of their true selves they put toughness before allure, aimed at conflicts instead of kisses, tasted blood, not lips, sought the clash of arms rather than the arm’s embrace, fitted to weapons hands which should have been weaving, desired not the couch but the kill…” (Fisher 1979, p. 212).

Okay. Saxo says there were ‘communities’ of shieldmaidens. Apparently, he means more than one community. How many? Ten? Fifty? Five thousand? In his The Danish History, Books I-IX, he names Alfhild, Sela, and Rusila as shieldmaidens, and also names three she-captains, Wigibiorg, who fell on the field at Bravalla, Hetha, who became queen of Zealand, and Wisna, whose hand was cut off by Starcad at Bravalla. He also writes about Lathgertha and Stikla. So…eight women? They might make up one community, but ‘communities?’

Historical problems like these have caused many scholars conclude that shieldmaidens were little more than a literary motif, perhaps devised to counter the influences of invading Christians and their notions of proper submissive female behavior. There are good arguments for this position (Lewis-Simpson, 2000, pp. 295-304). However, historically most cultures had women warriors, and where there were more than a few women warriors, they formed communities. If the shieldmaidens existed, we should find the evidence in the archaeological record.

For example, do we see them represented in Viking material culture, like artwork? Oh, yes. There are a number of iconographic representations of what may be female warriors. Women carrying spears, swords, shields, and wearing helmets, are found on textiles and brooches, and depicted as metallic figurines, to name a few. One of the most intriguing recent finds is a silver figurine discovered in Harby, Denmark, in 2012. The figurine appears to be a woman holding an upright sword in her right hand and a shield in her left.  Now, here’s the problem: These female warrior images may actually be depictions of valkyries, ‘choosers of the slain.’ Norse literature says that the war god, Odin, sent armed valkyries into battle to select the warriors worthy of entering the Hall of the Slain, Valhalla. Therefore, these images might represent real warrior women, but they could also be mythic warrior women.

And where are the burials of Viking warrior women? Are there any?

This is tricky. What would the burial of a shieldmaiden look like? How would archaeologists know if they found one?  Well, archaeologists recognize the burials of warriors in two primary ways:

  1. Bioarchaeology. If you spend your days swinging a sword with your right hand, the bones in that arm are larger, and you probably have arthritis in your shoulder, elbow and wrist. In other words, you have bone pathologies from repetitive stress injuries. At this point in time, we are aware of no Viking female burials that unequivocally document warrior pathologies.  But here’s the problem: If a Viking woman spent every morning using an axe to chop wood for her breakfast fire or swinging a scythe to cut her hay field—and we know Viking women did both—the bone pathologies would be very similar to swinging a sword or practicing with her war axe. Are archaeologists simply misidentifying warrior women pathologies? Are we attributing them to household activities because, well, they’re women. Surely they weren’t swinging a war axe. See? The psychological legacy of living in a male dominated culture can have subtle effects, though archaeologists work very hard not to fall prey to such prejudices.
  2. Artifacts. Sometimes warriors wear uniforms, or are buried with the severed heads of their enemies, but they almost always have weapons: swords, shields, bows, arrows, stilettos, spears, helmets, or mail-coats. A good example is the Kaupang burial.

There are many Viking “female weapons burials,” as archaeologists call them. Let us give you just a few examples. At the Gerdrup site in Denmark the woman was buried with a spear at her feet. This is a really interesting site for another reason: The woman’s grave contains three large boulders, two that rest directly on top of her body, which was an ancient method of keeping souls in graves—but that’s a discussion for another article. In Sweden, three graves of women (at Nennesmo and Klinta) contained arrowheads. The most common weapon included in female weapons burials are axes, like those in the burials at the BB site from Bogovej in Langeland (Denmark), and the cemetery at Marem (Norway). The Kaupang female weapons burials also contained axeheads, as well as spears, and in two instances the burial contained a shield boss.

There are many other examples of female weapons burials. For those interested in the details please take a look at the Analecta Archaeologica Ressoviensia, Vol. 8, pages 273-340.

In conclusion, did the shieldmaidens exist?  When taken as a whole, the literary, historical, and archaeological evidence suggests that there were individual Viking women who cultivated warriors’ skills and, if the sagas can be believed, some achieved great renown in battle. Were there communities of Viking women warriors, as Saxo claims?  There may have been, but there just isn’t enough proof to definitively say so…yet.

However, Lagertha, you personally are still on solid ground. You go, girl.

Lewis-Simpson, Shannon. Vinland Revisited. The Norse World at the Turn of the First Millennium. Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Inc., 2000: 295-304.

LAGERTHA IMAGE: History Channel


Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear are Anthropologists and award winning authors who have authored and co-authored over 40 books. Their next book, People of the Songtrail, releases on May 26th.

Follow the Gears on Twitter at @GearBooks, on Facebook, or visit them online.


The Viking Mystery: Did the Greenland Colonists Flee to Join the Native Peoples of America?

People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear

Written by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

One of the great archaeological mysteries of the northern hemisphere is what happened to the Viking colonists in Greenland? They persevered for over 400 years, from around AD 1000 to roughly 1450, but then they abandoned their villages and vanished. Why?

There are tantalizing historical references. For example, in the 1630s Gisli Oddsson of Skalholt wrote that in the year 1342 the Vikings of Greenland’s Western Settlement, “…of their own free will abandoned the true faith and the Christian religion, having already forsaken all good ways and true virtues, and joined themselves with the folk of America” (Seaver 1996, p. 86). While many archaeologists think this is a real possibility, proof is hard to come by. However, recent archaeological discoveries shed some light on what may have happened.

First, let’s talk about 11th century Viking culture. Who were they? Well, Vikings were farmers. Yes, they avidly explored distant places and conquered the peoples they needed to, but for the most part they farmed cattle, sheep, and goats, as their ancestors had done for generations before them. In fact, around 80% of the Viking diet came from livestock industries, and we know that social identity and status was based upon how many animals you owned and how much land you held. But here’s one of the tidbits of new information: By the middle of the 14th century the Greenland colonists had largely abandoned raising livestock. Instead of livestock, they were eating 80% seal meat. Why? What would force them to abandon farming and take up hunting and fishing instead?

The answer is not simple, but the main reason is they could no longer farm. How do we know? Hundreds of human and animal bones, recovered from Greenland’s archaeological sites, have been examined through isotopic analyses. Okay, what’s an isotopic analysis? There are many things that can be analyzed using isotopes, but, in this case, we’re talking about water and how many atoms of a specific kind of oxygen, 18 O, are contained in water. The number of atoms reflects the temperature at which water was formed in the atmosphere. After forming, the water then falls as rain or snow and is eventually drunk by human beings. All that means is that the number of 18 O atoms that archaeologists find in human or animal skeletal remains reflects the climate. The isotopes tell us that Viking colonists were under siege by the environment in the 14th century.

They must have started noticing the climate change around AD 1250. The growing seasons were becoming shorter. Whereas during the Medieval Warm Period (AD 900-1200), the colonists could cut summer grasses and stockpile hay for winter forage for their animals, when the Little Ice Age settled over Greenland the fjord grasses their livestock depended upon for survival were in increasingly short supply. At the end of the grazing season, there was probably little grass left to cut for hay.

On smaller farms, cattle were at first replaced by sheep and goats. Then they were replaced by pigs. After all, pigs didn’t need hay. They could eat the same things humans did, fish and seafood. But even pigs had disappeared by around 1300.

When they could no longer sustain their livestock, the Vikings started living very much as their Inuit neighbors did; they became hunters and fishers. Were they healthy? Yes.  Analyses of the skeletal remains tell us they were not starving. Nor were they plagued by diseases, at least not by diseases that leave telltale signs in bones.

Yet, they disappeared, and we know that part of the reason rests in the far-reaching impacts of the Little Ice Age.

You see, the intense cold affected more than just the colonists’ ability to raise livestock. For one thing, trade with the Old World simply ceased. Prior to 1350, there had been regular ship traffic between Norway, Iceland, and Greenland. After 1350, the northern Atlantic became a nightmare of sea ice. No sane mariner would dare risk travel to Greenland, especially when things at home were growing desperate. At this time, for example, there was a 60% decrease in the population of Norway, and a 30% decrease in Iceland. These dramatic decreases began before the spreading epidemics reached northern Europe. Famines, caused by crop failures, were rampaging across Europe. Who in their right mind would risk a sea voyage to Greenland to trade for luxury goods like walrus tusks and seal skins—the island’s primary trade goods—when the only thing people at home wanted was food?

A very illuminating archaeological discovery was made in 2010 at a Norse farm on Igaliku Fjord. (The Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Vol. III, 2012). Archaeologists from the University of Copenhagan and the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, excavated a cemetery from the late period of Viking colonization and found almost no young women. Women of child-bearing age had all but vanished. If they had starved, died from illness, or been killed in warfare, they’d probably be in the cemeteries. So…where did they go?

Theories abound. For example, the young women might have returned to their ancestral Scandinavian homelands. In fact, one of the last written references from the colonies is a church document that records the wedding between Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Bjornsdottir on September 14, 1408, at Hvalsey Fjord. She was a Greenland native, but he was from Iceland. Did he marry her and take her home? Maybe. But that still doesn’t explain the Igaliku Fjord cemetery mystery. Why would the Greelanders marry off all their daughters to foreigners? Clearly a colony without young women is doomed to extinction. The Norse knew that. Did they realize their extinction was at hand and were saving their young women? Doubtful. If they knew they were doomed and they could get away, wouldn’t they all have left?

Our favorite theory is that Gisli Oddsson was correct, they joined the “folk of America,” probably the Inuit. But if so, archaeologists have not yet found the genetic evidence to prove it. For the moment, however, let’s grant that at least some of them did join the Inuit.  Assimilation is messy business. How was that accomplished? The young Norse women may have joined the native peoples because they wished to, or in exchange for food or peace, or because they were taken as slaves. Taking slaves was a common practice among both the Inuit and the Norse. For example, one Icelandic chronicle states that in 1379 the Inuit attacked the Norsemen, killed 18, and took two men as slaves (Lewis-Simpson, 2000, p. 117).  So, it’s possible that the young women either intermarried with, or were taken as slaves by, the native peoples. Either possibility makes more sense, to us, than shipping them all back to Europe.

The mystery of the missing young women in the cemetery on Igaliku Fjord will stimulate many years of speculation and excavation and, one of these days, archaeologists will discover what happened to them.

Let us hope it’s soon.

Lewis-Simpson, Shannon. Vinland Revisited. The Norse World at the Turn of the First Millennium. Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Inc., 2000: 111-122.

Pre-order People of the Songtrail today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | iBooks | IndieBound | Powell’s

Follow the Gears on Twitter at @GearBooks, on Facebook, or visit them online.


Sneak Peek: People of the Songtrail

People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal GearA Viking seeress encounters the magic of Native America. Read the first two chapters of People of the Songtrail, the latest novel by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, publishing on May 26th.


Firelight fills the room. I hear murmuring echoes that seem to come from great distances, voices I almost recognize. One voice is velvet soft: “Thyra, you must let them go. You’ll hurt them.”

I don’t know where I am. England maybe. But I think I’m two or three. Mother’s beautiful face swims out of the night, smiling down at me. She appears annoyed, as though I’ve failed some test of humanity. Behind her, firelight dances over the log walls, and I remember that all morning I’ve been crawling around, gathering the fluttering orange wings on the floor and trying to scoop them up. They’ve been talking to me, scolding me for trying to catch them. I don’t understand why I can’t grasp the half-transparent butterflies in my hands.

“Here.” Mother reaches up to clutch her silver pendant. “Hold my hand and help me release them.”


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