Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them

Nancy Marie Brown. Palgrave Macmillan, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-137-27937-8
Brown (Song of the Vikings) successfully crafts an Icelandic history of chess while tracing the possible movements of 92 remarkable carved figures found in the early 19th century on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Drawing on the intertwined cultures, local artistic abilities, and close relationships among 12th-century Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, and England, Brown connects the threads between them with her own translations of Icelandic sagas and related archaeological research. She divides the tale into sections—Rooks, Bishops, Queens, Kings, and Knights—and inserts little-known historical tidbits about the game itself. Scandinavian history buffs and chess enthusiasts will revel in the power games between would-be kings and those already enthroned, some of whom, Brown posits, may have commissioned these walrus ivory chess sets as gifts for other kings. Other readers may find the mystery of the set’s hotly contested origins more enthralling. As for Margret the Adroit, the woman who supposedly made them, Brown makes the most of a saga’s sole mention of her artistic skill to support a recent and entirely plausible theory as to the pieces’ source. Though more full of conjecture than the assertive subtitle suggests, Brown’s account is nonetheless fascinating. Illus. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/22/2015
Release date: 09/01/2015
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4668-7913-3
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-250-10859-3
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