An exquisitely collated book that pulled me from my dreary English armchair to far off lands of harsh ice, arid sands and open seas.
It has been a real privilege to read this Norse & Muslim historical fiction anthology from Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad and Josh Gillingham. The book features some excellent authors and stories that convey a range of emotions and themes.
I was asked whether I’d like to review this ahead of release and it struck me as something really different and interesting. That shone through in the best of ways, this now being easily one of my favourite Norse inspired books.
On reflection after reading the collection, something that particularly stood out was just the range of different types of stories and writing styles. It means all readers should find something they like, while I’m convinced most readers will find something to like (or love) in every single one, as I did. There is even one story told in the style of the sagas.
Love, humour, adventure, action, faith, culture, light and dark themes; it’s got everything. This is a fiction anthology where the authors are granted artistic licence and as such shouldn’t be treated as an academic work. However, it is evident that a lot of research has gone into parts of the book aswell as a lot of love for the cultures it features.
The Crescent and the Northern Star challenges misconceptions around both groups of people and celebrates their histories, in addition to looking at their shared history, which is the primary focus of the book and to me one that felt really fresh and exciting. The imagery really transported me to other lands and it was something new and novel to experience the interactions between Norsemen and Muslims in these stories.
We know the Norse people came into contact with the Muslim world; there are primary accounts from Arab scholars of these strange Northmen and Islamic coins found in Viking hoards for example.
This book doesn’t aim to delve too deeply into the history and has a bigger focus on being accessible to a wider variety of readers and telling interesting and inventive stories.
I deliberated over trying to choose a favourite and I’ve been unable to as they’re all so different yet similar. I have to say it was brilliant to have a variety of perspectives and voices make up the collection. The Blasphemy of the Gods by Sami Shah was particularly interesting and enjoyable for this reason, written from the point of view of a man named Bilal, sent by his Caliph to gain knowledge and understanding of the Althingi. The desire for knowledge, wisdom and understanding of the world is a common theme amongst the Muslim characters featured in the stories.
Islam was at the forefront of studies in mathematics, astrology, medicine and technology during this time period with many of the advancements made having a direct influence on the modern world and I think it’s important that is conveyed in a book such as this.
It also challenges the conventional view of all Norse people as bloodthirsty Viking raiders, rather than the traders and explorers (and simple farmers) they often were.
There were some heartwarming stories aswell as plenty of adventure to transport me away to far off lands and I was left just feeling so utterly satisfied and fulfilled by the whole anthology and what Josh and Muhammad (aswell as the authors of course) have achieved here.
I can highly recommend this for all readers, not just those with an interest in history or the cultures/religions featured.
The lesser visited historical interactions between the Norse and the Muslim World is imagined fantastically through diverse voices, with a real appreciation for the cultures of both the Norse and Muslim peoples. I loved it.
Also – the illustrations for the beginning of each new chapter/story are fantastic. I really enjoyed them!
In our increasingly polarized world there is an urgent need for cross-cultural conversations, bridges of understanding between people of different beliefs, and a recommitment to a common understanding of our shared history: the history not of any one particular group but of humanity itself.
Althingi: The Crescent and the Northern Star, co-edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad (A Mosque Among the Stars, Islamicates) and Joshua Gillingham (The Gatewatch, Old Norse for Modern Times), is an anthology of historical fiction which explores the intricate and often-overlooked interactions between intrepid Viking voyagers and inquisitive emissaries from the powerful Islamic kingdoms. Featuring stories by an incredible slate of authors writing in the historical Althingi universe, Althingi: The Crescent and the Northern Star offers a glimpse into a fascinating forgotten past and will prove a must-read for fans of both Viking and Islamic history.