Legend of the Last Vikings: Taklamakan
by John Halsted
The Taklamakan was a huge desert, which medieval caravans traveling eastward on the Silk Road had to skirt before reaching the heart of China. The premise of Legend of the Last Vikings is that a group of Vikings who survived the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 (shortly before the Norman victory at Hastings) made a journey of exploration on the Silk Road into China. This is not as far-fetched as it might seem. The twelfth century Saga of Ingvar the Traveler describes a Viking journey from Sweden down the Volga River into the land of the Saracens in 1041. Viking runestones, including one that says Ingvar's brother traveled farther east looking for gold, support the saga's general outline of events.
Halsted's writing style is a cross between a travel guide and an old-fashioned boys' adventure story, with dialog that emphasizes jovially sarcastic humor reminiscent of a British military officers' club (without the cussing). The narrator is a Norwegian Viking with a love of libraries and an education in classical languages picked up while his king, Harald Hadraada, was at the court of Prince Yaroslav in Kiev. "It was my reacquainting with Olaf the Librarian that made me aware of the detailed journey of Ingvar Vittfarne, a Svea Scandinavian of royal blood. His 1041 journey record describes how he fought off dragons and serpents on his voyage down the Volga and across the Kaspian Sea, travelling to the east in an attempt to reach Samarkand, in Sarkland, and reopen trade links…. I wondered if he was still travelling and searching or if he had indeed gone on to Valhalla…. What had he seen that possibly no European had ever before seen?" 2006, 511 pages.
More info about Legend of the Last Vikings from author John Halsted's website
Other novels about travelers on the Silk Road:
Taklamakan: The Land of No Return by John Schettler, about an eighth century Chinese tea and spice trader who leads a caravan across the western rim of the Taklamakan Desert. More info
The Journeyer by Gary Jennings, about Marco Polo. More info
Caravan to Xanou by Edison Marshall, about Marco Polo.
Nonfiction about the Silk Road:
Life Along the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield. More info
The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia by Frances Wood. More info
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