Children’s book with an impressive description of a marriage market in the Ice Age

Children’s book with an impressive description of a marriage market in the Ice Age

Servant Úlfar sits at the front of the Viking ship with his eyes closed. Sometimes he lies down in the hold, “as close to the water as possible, with his cheek against the slippery wood.” All to feel the waves. In this way, Úlfar shows the way to the ship full of Greenlanders, across the Atlantic Ocean – in the twelfth century. Even before they saw land near Norway, he knew they were there. “The ship behaves differently here, the waves bend and bounce around the islands.”

It is one of the many scenes in the children’s book King’s game by Linda Dielemans so much fun for those interested in history. The novel describes the (fictional) history of the most famous medieval chess game: the Lewis whale ivory chess pieces, which were found on the beach of the Scottish island of the same name in the early nineteenth century.

It is very plausible that people like Úlfar guided the sturdy ships of the medieval Scandinavians across the seas in this way, the Polynesian sailors did exactly the same in earlier times. The exciting books written by archaeologist Dielemans, based on good research, always contain many of these striking details. Apart from the story about the adventures of a Greenlandic girl with a talent for ivory carving, King’s game for example, permeated with power conflicts, social inequality, envy and the fear of arbitrariness. Typically medieval! Take that Úlfar. On the boat he tells the ivory girl Auga that because of past crimes he is now bound hand and foot as a servant to Auga’s father, the headman of the Greenland village and also captain of the ship.

Instead of declaring Úlfar an outlaw, the chief pardoned him and made the man pay with bondage of himself and his daughter. That’s why Úlfar’s daughter is so jealous of Auga, she wants to live like Auga. “You have the life she would want, you are free.” We also see this social inequality and insecurity at a higher social level, later in the story in the many threats that the king of Norway makes. There is also a lot of connection and friendship, but the cry for protection is great. As Auga exclaims in an argument with her father: “and who will stand up for me?”

The sociological insights and historical details are a hallmark of Dieleman’s books, as is the long afterword with historical justification.

King’s game is her first novel about historical times. She previously wrote the award-winning Shadow of the lion (2020), about prehistoric cave drawings and how they could have originated from dreams (not a crazy hypothesis at all). That book also contains an impressive description of an Ice Age marriage market, when two groups of hunter-gatherers meet. In Spirit warrior (2015) she wrote about the Bronze Age, full of intriguing ritual battles with large bronze swords (and Stonehenge).

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Archaeologist and children's book writer Linda Dielemans.