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Here are archived all the known reviews "The Saga of Beowulf" has recieved, whether good or bad. I have catalogued them by their source, as some may consider reviews of higher or lesser calibre depending on their origin. It also makes it slightly easier to digest, as there are quite a few now. They are also presented in chronological order as received from each location, with the newest reviews listed first. Where a review appears on more than one site, it is listed under the site on which it first appeared, and references to other sites are given in the credit. Ratings given without a review are not included.

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  • Amazon [U.S.] (11)
  • Amazon [Int'l] (3)
  • Goodreads (7)
  • LibraryThing (3)
  • Book Review Blogs (13)

"An Overdue Portrayal of the Norse Classic" *****

Not since Robert Low's 'Oathsworn' series and Bernard Cornwell's 'Saxon Chronicles' have I been so enthused about an author's writing style. Mr. John's obvious enthusiasm for the Sagas, and an ability to translate their appeal through contemporary prose, reads like a climactic film adaptation - though I've yet to read a novelization as impressive as 'The Saga of Beowulf'.

With a lifetime collection of Norse and Viking era mythology, folklore, faith, history and fiction - I am counting this book amongst one of my favorites. Though I am still reading the book -I am confident to review and promote it's integrity with enthusiasm.

With that said - this book deserves a mass marketed publishing. Fortunately, Amazon is making this quality of independent writing available to other writers, and enthusiastic readers.

- Grim Frostbeard - May 4, 2013


"This book is hard to read" *

This book is meant to be a novelization of the Beowulf saga, but I couldn't finish it. Among my problems with it, Beowulf is supposed to be a Chrisitian, in this he is pagan. That sort of undermines the whole purpose of the story, to show the triumph of God over the demons. The book has lots of odd language that is supposed to be old-fashioned but really it is just distracting. The combat is unrealistic. Next time I write a book, I guess I"ll make it a Viking slasher and call it Beowulf since 13 readers read this unreadable piece of trash and gave it 5 stars. I've been making my money the hard way I guess.

- Heinrich Friesen "Henry" (Una Paloma Blanca) - April 2, 2013


"I just could not get into this epic" ***

I tried several times to get into this story but it never connected for me. I read for enjoyment but there was no joy for me in this. I gave up before I was half way through the book.

- Kenneth Deking "dekss418" - June 28, 2012


"It is one of the best novels written" *****

What is to say this book IS the story that we ALL had to read in school and now to read it as an adult where I am not being TOLD to read it lol Much more enjoyable.

- Paul J. Louviere "Gumshoe" - May 29, 2012


"Very good" *****

This is a very well researched, written, and edited take on this story. Reminds me of Harry Turtledove. The history is spot on.

- Ted - May 21, 2012


"Beowulf" *****

Epic Adventure for (just about) All ages! I would recomend this book to anyone interested in a suspenseful adventure! Monster attackings, and your standard hero quests, this book will be a great fantastic read!

- Epic Book Reader - February 20, 2012


"Beowulf...Made Fun!" ****

Most of us remember reading the Beowulf poem in school, and if you were like me it didn't really do anything for you - yeah it was the earliest piece of fiction written, but what kid cares about that?! Well, this is your chance to re-visit Beowulf and read about the legend in the ideal way - as a superb epic fantasy novel! R. Scot Johns has done a remarkable job and The Saga of Beowulf is a novel I really enjoyed reading!

Beowulf is filled with extraordinary characters, yet at the same time, are human with real faults and feelings that you as the reader can relate to. The book is rather large at over 600 pages - slow parts creep in there every now and then, but there is enough action to keep you interested and turning the pages! Beowulf has all the essentials that one shgould have in a good novel; love, battles, betrayal, fighting, honor and dragons, I mean a book is not a book without dragons! Thank goodness he includes a Glossery of Proper Names to help you out with the character names...geesh, I though Welsh names were hard! But it was pretty fun to try and pronounce them first - kinda became a game in my head!

It is obvious that R. Scot Johns researched the heck out of this book and the passion of his writing shows throughout the novel. I'm intrigued as to what he will write next.

Bottom line: I was a little nervous about this one, but only because I read mostly historical fiction and this is more historical fantasy. However, I am very glad to have read it and found myself liking it better than I thought I would. I recommend this to any history or fantasy lover!

- Amy M. Bruno, "Historical Fiction Junkie" - April 20, 2009


"Homecoming of a Hero" *****

I first became acquainted with Beowulf when I was a freshman in high school. There was an all-school assembly where a theatre group from the city came and performed a "play" based upon BEOWULF. It was more like a dance recital with some percussion and a little bit of acting. Though excited to not be in class, most students were bored by the performance, including the seniors who were studying the poem in their English classes. Even though I felt the show was a bit unusual, I was transfixed by the experience and it wasn't because of the performers. I was interested because I found the story that was told (experimental and rudimentary as it was) fascinating. Thus began a lifelong love for first piece of literature ever written in English, BEOWULF. I read the poem when I was a senior in high school, re-read it and translated a small portion from the original Old English for a medieval English class in college, and re-read it again when Seamus Heaney's now-famous translation was first released. My fascination with the tale has led me to read and watch other works about Beowulf. There are a variety of them out there, from comic books to novels to movies (the most recent being the 2007 CGI film version from Robert Zemeckis and Neil Gaiman). The tale of Beowulf is extraordinary and inspiring and though most of these works have had sparks of originality and creativity, none has been outstanding. That is until now.

R. Scot John's THE SAGA OF BEOWULF is a novelized re-telling of the story of Beowulf. The novel follows the main plotline of the original poem. During the Dark Ages, a legendary Geatish hero named Beowulf travels across the sea with some fellow warriors to the land of the Danes. Daneland has been ravished for twelve years by an ogre named Grendel. Many men have tried to kill the creature, but have ended up only as another meal or sacrifice. Beowulf arrives upon the shores of the Danes and promises to kill the creature. He does, but the joy of having the monster slain is short lived because Grendel has a mother who is more cunning than her son. She threatens to continue the siege that Grendel began twelve years before. She must be dealt with. So, Beowulf travels to Grendel's mother's den and with the help of a magical giant sword, kills her, too. He returns home and eventually becomes the king of his own clan and after many other adventures meets the end of his life after fighting a ferocious dragon. He succeeds in killing the dragon, but the wounds from the encounter are mortal and he dies. This is the basic plot of the original story and they are all included in THE SAGA OF BEOWULF. However, the novel encompasses much, much more.

The basic elements are expanded and other plotlines, some based upon other historical events and situations, have been woven into the story. Characters are given rich backstories that make them seem like real and compelling people, especially Beowulf. In many of the adaptations of the original poem, Beowulf's character has been altered in a significant way to make him seem more human and less a Hero. Take for instance the Zemeckis movie version. There is no doubt that Beowulf is stronger than any man alive and can do heroic deeds. However, in that version of the tale, Beowulf's character is compromised and he is shown not just to be proud, but pompous with a moral and ethical code no different than the rest of the savages he encounters. In THE SAGA OF BEOWULF, neither his humanity nor his almost superhuman abilities are skirted and Beowulf is shown to be the real Hero he is in the poem.

Beowulf isn't the only character to be so fully and richly developed. Most of the other characters are, too. Many times background stories and exposition is for many readers often boring and the least interesting part of the stories they read, but in THE SAGA OF BEOWULF this is not so. Much of the exposition is dealt in flashbacks that not only provide crucial character history, but are just as exciting and interesting as the main action of the tale. And this is an action-packed story. A giant sea serpent, rock trolls, dwarves, fierce battles against sworn enemies, assassinations, sea journeys, a raid for fame and fortune into Frankish territory, and a battle in a ancient Roman arena against gladiators are all a part of the story. Besides the action and fighting sequences there's some real-life history and political maneuverings as well as a dose of romance for good measure.

The novel is written in a style that modern readers should have no trouble following, yet is full of narrative poetry that does justice to the original epic. As a former high school English teacher there were times that I became very excited by some of the language in the story (Look, it's a kenning!). A casual reader who has never read the original poem will probably enjoy the book as much as I did and not notice these poetic tributes, but they are a nice touch and are especially appreciated by those who are familiar with the original poem.

Purists might be offended by how the author has condensed events to fit a relative short time span. For instance, in the original poem, it is a span of nearly fifty years that Beowulf is king but in THE SAGA OF BEOWULF he is only king for a few brief months. The author explains in detail on his website why he made the decisions he made. Even though I felt it would have been nice to have seen some of the events of the novel spread out over a longer time frame, I understand why the timeline was shortened and felt that it took nothing away from the story or the character of Beowulf. In fact, other than a rather slow beginning and a few typographical errors, there is no criticism that I can say about THE SAGA OF BEOWULF.

In order to help readers more fully understand the text, the book includes a glossary of names, a glossary of places, as well as a fairly detailed map of the Scandinavia of the story. I found the glossaries particularly useful, especially during the first third of the novel when there were so many names and places, some of which even I wasn't familiar.

In short, I found THE SAGA OF BEOWULF to be an exciting piece of historical fiction. Those who are familiar with the original poem will probably enjoy the novel as well as anyone who enjoys reading quality historical and fantasy fiction.

- Tom Varner (TVTV3) - Amazon Top 500 Reviewer - February 26, 2009


"An Excellent Novelization" *****

Early in the sixth century at Heorot, the victors have won many battles, but none as sweet as defeating the forces of Heruli; they built this great hall to celebrate their conquest. However, now the Danes led by intrepid King Hrothgar and his uncle King Edgtheow the Great face their most dangerous foe ever in their great mead hall. Their single adversary with his claws and teeth rip asunder the once mighty berserker warriors. The monster dines on his victims. A frightened survivor Hrothgar who knows first hand the ogre offers a great reward for the death of Grendel. From across the sea Bear Wolf called Beowulf arrives at the Dane Hall occupied by Grendel the monster. Beowulf challenges the beast in his new lair and kills him. However, though many sing ballads honoring the great Beowulf for his heroism that saved the Danes, he is not done. Grendel's as monstrous mother Griselda seeks vengeance. He kills the troll-hag before leaving to go home and eventually become a king with many more epic battles including with an invincible dragon.

This is an excellent novelization of the great epic poem that authors like Tolkien paid homage to. The story line stays true to the poetry and to the hero, but also provides deeper insight into the champion, his times, and his otherworldly opponents for instance the paternal side of Grendel (nice twist). Mindful of the terrific Seamus Heaney translation, fans of epic fantasy especially of the original poem (and its modernization) and even those who skipped the reading in high school for the Cliff Notes will relish R. Scot Johns' superb novel rendition of THE SAGA OF BEOWULF, although last year's movie version was fun, the SAGA OF BEOWULF would make a fine adventure series of movies along the lines of its "offspring" The Lord of the Rings (is Peter Jackson looking for his next fantasy adaptation?).

- Harriet Klausner - Amazon #1 Hall Of Fame Reviewer - December 14, 2008


"Epic Heroic Fantasy" *****

I've never had an ear for poetry. I struggled with it in school, and still have no way of knowing good poetry from bad. Unfortunately, this failing has kept me from reading what, by all accounts, is one of the great heroic epics of all time - Beowulf. That's why I jumped at the chance to try out R. Scot Johns' novelization of Beowulf, appropriately titled The Saga of Beowulf.

Almost immediately into this hefty tome (nearly 600 pages of small text) I started to hear a wizened bard acting as my internal narrator, regaling me with tales of the (literally) larger than life warrior, his seemingly impossible quest, and the love he left behind. Soon enough I came to care about his companions as well, and the events that propelled and shaped them. Johns's storytelling is poetic in its own way, and his focus on the cares and motivations of kings and peasants alike brought to mind my all-time favorite heroic fantasy author, the late David Gemmell.

From Beowulf's initial quest against the demon Grendel and the Troll-Hag that sired him, to his battles against the Swedes, to the ill-fated raids in what would become France, to the battle that cost him his life, The Saga of Beowulf unfolds like an epic Hollywood movie. I could almost see these towering Norsemen battling for land and king amidst blood and flame.

Having never read the source material, I can't attest to how faithfully it was adapted, but given the scope of this work and the author's obvious love for the original, I suspect it will please fans of the Beowulf poem. I can however, recommend The Saga of Beowulf to anyone who enjoys heroic fantasy. It's one of the finest heroic fantasy tales I've ever read, and I hope it reaches the wide audience it certainly deserves."

As for me, I think I'm going to give the original Beowulf poem a shot. Hopefully it will be easier to handle now that I know the story and love the characters.

- Justin Gaines - Amazon Top 500 Reviewer - December 5, 2008


"Great Story!" *****

I love a good story, and this is a very good one. It's written in Bardic prose (poetic cadence) and once you get the rhythm, it rolls right along. The characters are excellent, and the descriptions are brilliant. This is almost like reading a movie.

- Pamela Wheaton, "Rockin Cabby" - November 14, 2008


"Epic" *****

Absolutely epic. A fantastic version of this legend. This should be taught in all north west European schools as part of our heritage.

- Roblor - Amazon UK - February 1, 2013


"Fantastic" *****

Firstly, I should point out that although there is no active table of contents showing in the 'Go To' menu there is in fact one. I would advise anyone coming to this to click on the cover as you will find not only the table of contents for both books, but also a family tree as well as a map. This edition contains both books, the first one being Beowulf destroying Grendel, and its mother, the second book being what happens to Beowulf up until his death.

Personally I am a fan of Beowulf, it is a really good epic poem, it is part of our national cultural heritage, and it has been influential on poets and writers, not least J R R Tolkien. The great thing about this book is that you don't have to know about Beowulf, and even if you hate the poem you may still find yourself really enjoying this.

Set in the 6th Century ogres, trolls, dragons, etc., still walk the Earth. With the being Grendel causing havoc in Dane-Mark no one seems able to beat him, until that is Beowulf comes to the land. Whilst Beowulf is fighting Grendel and its mother in Dane-Mark though back in his homeland the king is fighting with the Swedes. This book seamlessly blends fantasy/myth elements with historical fiction, creating an epic saga. Taking in love and treachery along with feuds and other elements there is a lot to read here in a story that is sure to draw you in and hold your attention. Being both a fantasy and an historical novel this should appeal to a large audience and even if like me you are a fan of the Beowulf poem then you will find yourself enjoying this. I didn't know if I would like this when I first got it, but after only reading a few pages I was hooked. This is a book that is well worth getting and should appeal to quite a diverse range of people. At the back of this there are also two glossaries, one on names, and the other of places. The subject has been well studied by the author and it shows when you are reading it.

- M. Dowden - Amazon UK Top 50 Reviewer - April 2, 2012


A 'Massively' Good Read! *****

What an incredible epic story. I received this book sometime in November and it rested in my TBR pile throughout the Christmas break. I have spoken of my difficulty in reading and reviewing over the break due to my state of mind and frankly this book is a tome...not exactly conducive to light reading. A daunting 600 page novelization of the story of the Norse hero Beowulf. It is absolutely accurate to the old English poem written in the tenth century and R. Scot Johns has completely adapted this tale from the old English to a modern retelling as a piece of fiction.

I have really enjoyed it but it took forever to read. The size of the font is small and my eyes are getting quite bad so I could only concentrate on the pages for about 50 at a time. This is NOT the way that I prefer to read. I love to completely submerge myself in a story and inhale it as if enjoying the most delicious spaghetti supper. This is not a book for the fainthearted either...once you begin the story it is hard to put down. Beowulf becomes this flesh and blood man who seeks out challenges that will befit his role as a hero for his people the Geats and ensure his place in Valhalla for all eternity.

R. Scot Johns writes with great detail and describes the settings and characters as if it he was setting the stage for a movie. He originally visualized and wrote the tale as a screenplay but rethought his decision to tell the story as a novel when two other movie screenplays were sold for production at the same time. I would liked to have read the screenplay. I loved the story and it is an easy read but it is too darn long. Sometimes there is just too much story to contain it within one volume so it might be more appealing if it was divided logically into a multi volume tale.

This is a 'massively' good read!

- Cassiopia Cat - Amazon.ca (Canada) - January 24, 2009


"Bravo!" *****

This is an absolutely wonderful book. I was sorry to come to the end of this one. The author appears to have done his research very well. It's a gripping read. A wonderful Norse Saga brought to life, I would highly recommend it. This definitely is going to be high on my list of favourites. To the author I say, "Bravo!"

- Rivqah - April 6, 2013


"Pretty Good" ****

Pretty good telling of the story. My only complaint is it ends entirely too quickly. Our hero isn't given enough time to be happy. But the author does explain his reason for this in the afterword.

- Ben - October 18, 2012


"A Must Read" *****

I studied Beowulf at university and have loved the poem ever since. I have read many versions of this poem ranging from Rosemary Sutcliffe's excellent children's retelling, entitled Dragonslayer, through many scholarly editions, and verse translations, such as Heaney's, to this behemoth. What I liked most about this book was the way Scot Johns fleshed out all the background stories throwing light on episodes that get only a passing reference in the original. For those who love the original, it is a 'must read', however, if you are new to Beowulf, it might be a good idea to start with a simpler, shorter retelling. For that, I would recommend Dragonslayer. Though written for children, it is equally enjoyable by adults.

- Robert - May 17, 2012


"A Well Constructed Story...Historical Gripes Aside" **

I really wanted to become absorbed in this book but too often I found myself being jerked back out of the story by details that just didn't sit very well with the setting or the period.

From book two we can be sure that the author has set the book in time in the early Merovingian period; that is to say the early 6th century. This makes sense because the only historical reference to a character from the poem (Hygelac) is from this time and location. From this we should know that Rome is now an Ostrogothic kingdom as well as being the home of the Catholic Church and that the Roman Empire is a memory of the oldest grandparents. We know that the English settlement of Britain is well under way, with the anecdotal understanding that their expansion had been halted by British resistance.

So against this we have tales of gladiatorial games and even a city on the frontier that maintains a combat tradition that against all logic maintains these artificial combat styles. We rightly hear about Christianity being the religion in the successor states. We have Hengest and Horsa at Heorot when they are named by Bede as the first kings of an English state in about AD450 (if you read the Adventus Saxonum story as it is popularly received) and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records their deaths before the end of the 5th century.

OK, historical gripes aside it is a well constructed story and there were enjoyable sequences in there - my favourite part was probably between the death of Hygelac and the beginning of the dragon sequence - the politics was believable and the reactions of people to the situation understandable.

- Kevin Futers - Goodreads, Amazon UK - April 1, 2012


"Excellent Book, Highly Recommended!" *****

I've never read the poem Beowulf. When I saw this available for Kindle for just $2.99 and 5-star reviews, I thought it would be a perfect time to get the scoop in the tale. I'm glad I did. While this doesn't replace reading the classic poem, it is a fantastic story. It's well written, truly engrossing and just excellent. At the end of the book, the author gives some info on where he has taken license and deviated from the original. I have to say, I actually want to try my hand at reading the thing now!

- Tami Stackelhouse - February 28, 2011


"An Epic Tale...Larger than Life" ***

The Saga of Beowulf is an epic tale with trolls, dwarves, dragons, ogres, revenge, true love, epic battles, heroes, magic, curses and everything else you need and want in a true epic. Though it was slow going at first. I was enjoying the story but there are a lot of people, lots of them with similar names, it takes place in several different places, has flashbacks and complex relationships between the characters. There is a lot going on. It was a while before I could keep track of it all to the point where I was just reading the story instead of working out who everyone was. There is a list of proper names in the back that I found very helpful before I had all the names set because it has a sentence or two about who they are. It also has the pronunciation of all the names which was helpful too.

A lot of the book is about fights and battles which are often described in bloody, gory detail. But it isn’t all about violence. The characters are well developed and have depth. You get to know them by seeing their backgrounds and personal struggles. So it is also about love of family, friends and country and internal conflict. It is about concepts like bravery, cowardice, strength and honor. The writing is almost lyrical and although I thought it was out of place among people I thought were mostly illiterate when Beowulf said someone had signed their own death warrant, the style of writing and the wording is very fitting to the tale. It somehow makes the tale grander in some way and you sit in rapt attention as the larger than life heroes and their monster infested world comes to life.

It tells the entire story of Beowulf’s life and at 640 pages is a long story and not a light read. You have to be willing to put the time in. But if you have any interest in Beowulf or just enjoy good adventure stories I think the time spent will be well rewarded.

- Rebecca - Goodreads, LibraryThing - July 19, 2010


"Excellent Prose Version of Beowulf" *****

I have now had this book FOREVER! And finally made it through all 600+ pages. Did it take me this long because it was slow or boring? Not at all! It took me that long because it was simply too big to fit in my purse.

Beowulf has long been one of my favorite stories of all time. In eighth grade we had to read the original poem in old English. Even though the language made me want to cry, I still loved the story. I have read and re-read various translations, and stylizations of the tale over the years. There is nothing more thrilling to me then following Beowulf and his men as they face the beast Grendel, then have to do battle with the Sea Witch and finally at the end of his life, to do battle with the Dragon. But in this book there is so much more to the story, so many little gaps filled in, more back story and so much more life to it.

This book, though huge and daunting to look at - is FANTASTIC. If you have ever wanted to read Beowulf, but hated the idea of ancient English verse - THIS is the book you need to read. Honest to the source material, and simple to read and comprehend without a translation key. Even if you love the tale in verse, you should still pick up a copy of this book and re-read it, the story and the character are given a whole new life. Beowulf becomes what we imagined he was between the lines of the old poem.

I have one complaint - and it should give you an idea of how much I love this book - The cover does not do it justice. This book should at least have a faux-leather cover, an epic tale like this deserves better then the 1980's Dungeons and Dragons looking cover it currently has. I highly recommend this book to everyone!

- Ravenskya "Princess of Horror" (Kristen) - Goodreads, Amazon Vine Voice - April 23, 2009


"A True Epic" ***

The Saga of Beowulf is an epic tale with trolls, dwarfs, dragons, ogres, revenge, true love, epic battles, heroes, magic, curses and everything else you need and want in a true epic. Though it was slow going at first. I was enjoying the story but there are a lot of people, lots of them with similar names, it takes place in several different places, has flashbacks and complex relationships between the characters. There is a lot going on. It was a while before I could keep track of it all to the point where I was just reading the story instead of working out who everyone was. There is a list of proper names in the back that I found very helpful before I had all the names set because it has a sentence or two about who they are. It also has the pronunciation of all the names which was helpful too. A lot of the book is about fights and battles which are often described in bloody, gory detail. But it isn’t all about violence. The characters are well developed and have depth. You get to know them by seeing their backgrounds and personal struggles. So it is also about love of family, friends and country and internal conflict. It is about concepts like bravery, cowardice, strength and honor. The writing is almost lyrical and although I thought it was out of place among people I thought were mostly illiterate when Beowulf said someone had signed their own death warrant, the style of writing and the wording is very fitting to the tale. It somehow makes the tale grander in some way and you sit in rapt attention as the larger than life heroes and their monster infested world comes to life. It tells the entire story of Beowulf’s life and at over 600 pages is a long story and not a light read. You have to be willing to put the time in. But if you have any interest in Beowulf or just enjoy good adventure stories I think the time spent will be well rewarded.

- Bedda - July 28, 2009


"Great Cover Art!" *****

I just finished "The Saga of Beowulf" by R. Scot Johns last night and wow!! This book is awesome. I can picture everything the author says. I don’t really know where to begin because there is so much going on in this book! It’s nonstop action and adventure. The synopsis on the back says it’s "relentless in pace" and that is so true! Beowulf battles a ogres, armies and himself. And the love between Beowulf and Haereth is something most people dream about.

Instead of giving away parts of the book, I’d like to share a couple of quotes with you that I found touching. Beowulf said to his clan after returning from war, "So much blood. So many dead. And all for what? Homes ransacked, villages destroyed, men and women slain for half a sack of grain. We became no better than the Swedes. Wolves that feed on sheep when they’re not even hungry." Another quote that I enjoyed is when Haereth tells Beowulf "There are ways of being together even when all the world divides you. Just as there are ways of being far apart, although we stand this close."

I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. And if you’re worried that you won’t be able to keep up, don’t be. The author included a map and glossaries of people and places, which I found really helpful.

- Susan Helene Gottfried ("Bridget") - West of Mars, LibraryThing, Goodreads - March 4, 2009


"Action Epic" *****

Beowulf has always been on my list to read, but after hearing time and again how daunting it was I kept moving it further and further down the list. When I saw this book I decided it was time to give it a try. I am glad I did. The story’s flow and action kept me turning the pages late into the nights. I love the description of and insight into the characters. Like many others I have seen the recent movie adaptation and very much enjoyed how this book made Beowulf into a likeable person, through showing all his aspects, instead of the arrogant fool of the movie. The descriptions also made the entire scene come to life for me. From the entrance into the Golden Hall through the popular battles with Grendel and his mother to the battle with the Swedes the descriptions and action kept coming. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to read Beowulf and hindered by the reputation of the original and to anyone looking for a good action epic.

- bluewriter2006 - February 24, 2009


"An Epic Tale Worthy of Reading" ****

Beowulf is arguably the oldest surviving English literature. The epic poem tells the story of heroes and glorious battles in the days long gone. This piece of literature has been passed down from generation to generation for the last thousand years. The epic poem of Beowulf, is one of my most favorite of all time. To me, not only is Beowulf the Scandinavian version of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian in epic poetry, but the character of Beowulf himself is a hero of mythic proportion. Everything about Beowulf is intriguing: A hero with the strength of 30 men, slayer of giant sea serpents, swimming for days, the hand to hand battle with the troll Grendel, the battle against the troll hag and his final confrontation with the dragon, has captured my imagination ever since the first time I opened up the magical pages of this ancient poem. In fact, it is not hard to find traces of Beowulf in J.R.R Tolkien's Middle Earth Saga, and C.S Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.

Independent author R. Scot Johns, after a decade of research on the historical background of Beowulf, and the ancient poem itself, has written a novelization of this epic poem, titled "The Saga of Beowulf". While the original poem consists of roughly 3200 lines, this novelization version amount to almost 620 pages, and is quite a hefty tome. The would-be reader must be willing to invest some time if they are interested in this book. Is this book worth your time? Let's find out.

Story:

To begin with, forget about the 2007 Hollywood movie "Beowulf" with Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie. All I can say is, that movie was not a faithful adaptation of Beowulf. In fact, it is everything but Beowulf, with main storyline so disfigured from the original. This is hardly a surprise since the script was written by Neil Gaiman (author of American Gods) and he was on a mission to not only remove all the Christian elements from the original poem, but Gaiman has taken a step further to attack Christianity in his script. The bottom line is, if your only impression of Beowulf is based on the 2007 movie, then you need to read the original poem. Only then can you appreciate the beauty of the original story and realize how poorly written is the Hollywood adaptation (the only redeeming quality of the 2007 film were the soundtracks, and the 3D effects in the cinema).

It seems that the modern attempt to adapt Beowulf into a movie has failed to capture the spirit of the original poem. What about this massive novel? Before I give a brief summary of the story, I am happy to report that most of the essence of the original Beowulf poem has been captured in Scot's novel, but not without flaws.

The story of Beowulf probably took place at around 500-600AD, mainly in Denmark and Geat land (in modern Sweden). Unlike the original poem, the novelization portrayed Beowulf as more human, and has more background stories about the history at the time, and also has many complex characters in the book.

The story started with a troubled mead hall of Heorot in Denmark. The kingdom has been besieged by a monstrous troll, Grendel for 12 years. The human eating monster comes into the hall night after night, and no warriors can stand a chance against this super natural monstrosity. Many brave warriors have stood in front of the monster and fell. Including Beowulf's father, the crimson warrior Edgetheow, an exile from the Geat land and a right hand man of the Danish king Hrothgar. However, Grendel has never attacked the king himself. After a siege of 12 years, most of the king's warriors are slain and Denmark was in a pitiful state. As a grown man, and a warrior of renown, Beowulf led a small war band to Denmark, in attempt to slay the monster and also avenge for his father's death. In an epic battle, Beowulf managed to tear off Grendel's arm in hand to hand combat, and in effect slay the troll that has laid waste to Denmark. Little did Beowulf know that the Orge battle is but the beginning of a series of struggles against fate, where his struggle will leave behind an epic tale of legends.

What I think about the book:

R. Scot Johns has done a great job at novelizing Beowulf. It is evident that he has done thorough research in the historical background of 5th century Scandinavia. This book is on the borderline between a historical fiction, and a historical fantasy novel. Johns has successfully portrayed the human side of Beowulf that were present in the poem, and presented Beowulf as a complex character who is more than just having the strength of 30 men with a bunch of heroic deeds. Equally as well done, is the cast of supporting characters in this book. From the heroes to the villain, all the characters are well developed and their motivations are well presented to the readers, making this a deeply involved story.

It is interesting to note that the author has removed all the Christian elements present in the original poem in this novelization. I am not sure what the author's intention was for removing the Christian elements. However, while the poem Beowulf was originally a song sang by bards, circulating in Northern Europe in pre-Christian era, it is also known that the first written composition of Beowulf was probably by the hands of Christian monks in 800AD. Therefore, maybe the author's intention for removing the Christian elements is to present the book with a more accurate historical background. Because in the time when the story of Beowulf took place, Northern Europe has just begun the process of converting to Christianity. Some have even speculated that the written poem of Beowulf in 800AD, was an attempt to reconcile Christianity and Nordic religious belief. Because the poem was largely appealing to the Norsemen's culture and code of honor in battle and glory, and at the same time trying to portray Beowulf as a Christ like character, while the poem bears many imagery to the story of Jesus Christ.

In this novel, all the Christian elements from the original poem are absent. Christianity is presented as a budding religion in certain parts of Europe, while the Norsemen were still pagans who believed that a glorious death on the battlefield will grant them a seat in Valhalla across the bifrost where Odin awaits the brave and the courageous. Very interestingly, this novel was written from the perspective of Nordic mythology belief, which reflects the Nordic culture and the belief in fatalism, where one's struggle against fate matters little to the entirety of things, but it is the struggle itself that will bring glory and the heroic deeds from the struggle will be sung for ages to come. Perhaps it was the harsh weather in the Nordic regions that shaped the fatalistic belief? I don't really know, but I think some interesting discussions can be followed up on this topic of fatalism, Norse mythology and early Christianity in Scandinavia.

Personally, I think this is a great book. The only flaw is that sometimes the author can get pretty wordy, and pays too much attention to details that becomes distracting to the pace of the story. I have certainly speed through some of the paragraphs that seemed out of place. Nevertheless, the book is very well written, and the 1980's dungeon & dragon style cover doesn't really do justice for this otherwise fantastic novel. I think as an independent author, R. Scot Johns should probably find a good book cover artist to design the cover of his books. After all, appropriate book cover art or even illustrations never hurt, but can only be good to improve the artistic value of the book.

Final score: 4/5

The Saga of Beowulf is the first novelization of the epic poem Beowulf. R. Scot Johns did a great job at modernising the poem and giving it more story with the rich historical context, complex and deep character development, and is very well written. The only downside of the book is the occasional wordiness in some paragraphs, which disturbed the pace of the story. The novel has successfully captured the spirit of the original poem, and R. Scot Johns has weaved an epic tale worthy of reading.

P.S. If you like this kind of books, make sure to check out Poul Anderson's "Hrolf Kraki's saga", a novelization of the 11th century Norse epic saga "Saga of King Hrolf Kraki". This saga is actually remotely connected to Beowulf, in that both epics have mentioned King Hrothgar of Denmark.

- Daniel Lin - Daniel's Corner - May 5, 2012


"Engrossing - Highly Recommended"

In The Saga of Beowulf, R. Scot Johns tackles a story as old as English literature itself: the saga of the Geatish strongman Beowulf and his many adventures—especially his battle with Grendel, the monster terrorizing Heorot, the great hall of the Danish King Hrothgar. Many others have dramatically shaped this material, from the Beowulf poet himself to John Gardner in his 1971 novel Grendel to director Robert Zemeckis in his 2007 special effects extravaganza, and even in such varied and powerful company, Johns acquits himself well.

His big, engrossing novel is Beowulf’s story from beginning to end, thickly populated with engaging characters, from warrior-women to evil kings (foremost of which is Hygelac, King of the Geats and Beowulf’s uncle, who’s here presented as a great snarling, monk-skewering bad guy) to Beowulf and his valiant men, seeking glory and a bit of international diplomacy by standing guard to face the monster haunting Heorot.

Johns is in great earnest while telling his epic story, and he’s done an impressive amount of research into 6th-century Scandinavia, but even above these things, the saving grace of his book is its sly sense of humor, which hums along in the background of virtually every scene, such as when he identifies some bad guys: “For these were Stone-Trolls of the highland hills that ate great bowls of rocks for breakfast—when they couldn’t get a decent fill of human flesh (which was not often enough these days to their way of thinking).” In this Johns remembers what many previous dramatizers have forgotten: if the saga of Beowulf hadn’t been just plain entertaining, it wouldn’t have survived all these centuries.

That dramatic legacy is in good hands with Johns. The Saga of Beowulf is highly recommended.

- Steve Donoghue - The Historical Novel Society - August 13, 2009


"Action Packed and True to the Heroic Fantasy Genre" ***

For those of you not in the know, Beowulf is a 10th century old English poem that has been translated and adapted many times; from good text translations to terrible film adaptations. In the poem, Beowulf is a giant of a man descended of kings, yet king he is not. Because of his father’s deeds and his uncle’s jealousy he became an outcast and sent on a deadly mission that no one ever thought he would come back from. His mission was to kill the unstoppable ogre, Grendel.

R. Scot Johns’ very good version (that’s because it’s not a film) of the epic tale stays as true to the poem as possible. He starts off slow, introducing characters and a bit of history among the clans, but then Grendel is introduced and it is all on. In my own minds eye I could envision Grendel wrecking havoc, sundering the souls of men and feasting on their flesh. This is due to R. Scot’s ability to describe a scene, telling enough for you to form an image but not so much as to not let your imagination flow. I was personally amazed at the information this book presented. Turning a poem into a full blown novel is not easy and more than a little did R. Scot do when researching the tale of Beowulf. Any parts that he did change were very sensible, making it easier to read and overall added to the story well. The best change was the twist of Grendel’s father and the importance of Wiglaf.

What I liked most perhaps about the story of Beowulf is that he is human. While I was reading the book, I was always comparing Beowulf to other mythical heroes, Samson and Hercules being two that came to my mind quickly. Yet Beowulf was unto his own and I was glad they he wasn’t like them. I would not have liked to read about an all conquering hero, I like my hero’s flawed. He was young but too brash, had the strength of thirty men in his arms but unwise in the way of life.

Tempering the good with the bad I must say that a lack of a professional editor has hurt this book. From spelling mistakes, to misplaced names, to insufficient map detail has caused some annoyance while reading. A good editor should have solved these problems, but this is a learning curve fledgling authors often take (especially when low on capital).

Overall I was impressed by R. Scot’s work, more so when I visited his website after finishing the book. The Saga of Beowulf is action packed and true to the heroic fantasy genre. I would really love to pick up some original work from R. Scot because this book only hints at his originality and the underlying ability he has for writing heroic fantasy.

- Jon Snow - Sleeping With Books, Best Fantasy Books, Goodreads - May 1, 2009


"THIS is the Book You Need to Read" *****

I have now had this book FOREVER! And finally made it through all 600+ pages. Did it take me this long because it was slow or boring? Not at all! It took me that long because it was simply too big to fit in my purse.

Beowulf has long been one of my favorite stories of all time. In eighth grade we had to read the original poem in old English. Even though the language made me want to cry, I still loved the story. I have read and re-read various translations, and stylizations of the tale over the years. There is nothing more thrilling to me then following Beowulf and his men as they face the beast Grendel, then have to do battle with the Sea Witch and finally at the end of his life, to do battle with the Dragon. But in this book there is so much more to the story, so many little gaps filled in, more back story and so much more life to it.

This book, though huge and daunting to look at - is FANTASTIC. If you have ever wanted to read Beowulf, but hated the idea of ancient English verse - THIS is the book you need to read. Honest to the source material, and simple to read and comprehend without a translation key. Even if you love the tale in verse, you should still pick up a copy of this book and re-read it, the story and the character are given a whole new life. Beowulf becomes what we imagined he was between the lines of the old poem.

I have one complaint - and it should give you an idea of how much I love this book - The cover does not do it justice. This book should at least have a faux-leather cover, an epic tale like this deserves better then the 1980's Dungeons and Dragons looking cover it currently has. I highly recommend this book to everyone!

- K.D. Payne - Odyssey Reviews, Amazon - April 23, 2009


A Superb Epic Fantasy Novel! ****

Most of us remember reading the Beowulf poem in school, and if you were like me it didn't really do anything for you - yeah it was the earliest piece of fiction written, but what kid cares about that?! Well, this is your chance to re-visit Beowulf and read about the legend in the ideal way - as a superb epic fantasy novel! R. Scot Johns has done a remarkable job and The Saga of Beowulf is a novel I really enjoyed reading!

Beowulf is filled with extraordinary characters, yet at the same time, are human with real faults and feelings that you as the reader can relate to. The book is rather large at over 600 pages - slow parts creep in there every now and then, but there is enough action to keep you interested and turning the pages! Beowulf has all the essentials that one should have in a good novel; love, battles, betrayal, fighting, honor and dragons, I mean a book is not a book without dragons! Thank goodness he includes a Glossary of Proper Names to help you out with the character names...geesh, I thought Welsh names were hard! But it was pretty fun to try and pronounce them first - kinda became a game in my head!

It is obvious that R. Scot Johns researched the heck out of this book and the passion of his writing shows throughout the novel. I'm intrigued as to what he will write next.

Bottom line: I was a little nervous about this one, but only because I read mostly historical fiction and this is more historical fantasy. However, I am very glad to have read it and found myself liking it better than I thought I would. I recommend this to any history or fantasy lover!

- Amy - Passages To The Past - March 27, 2009


"An Unforgettable Journey" ****

I can only imagine the amount of time and unending work the author, R. Scot Johns put into researching and bringing his epic journey of Beowulf alive. This is no small book and no small story. The Saga of Beowulf is rich with character and plot. The story of Beowulf unfolds in a way that brings the reader right along, every step of the way.

Mr. Johns has done a marvelous job with his novelization of the ancient poem of Beowulf, originally written by an unknown source. In all honesty, I have never read the poem, nor knew much of anything about Beowulf. This book quickly changed that and in a most delightful way. What I found incredibly helpful was the Glossary of Proper Names that appears in the last pages of the book. It was a wonderful tool to aid me in figuring out the pronunciation of the abundant names within that story, as well as help me keep track of who was who, if I steered a bit off track.

Never one for ancient stories and those of fantasy (not to mention of epic length), I am finding that to no longer be the case. I really enjoyed the riveting tale that unfolded within the pages of The Saga of Beowulf - the battles among clans and mythic creatures were engrossing - if not a bit graphic. Here is one such passage found on page 33:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Wiglaf!" Svein yelled helplessly as the Serpent unexpectedly shook its head from side to side, violently tearing the mast and ropes from out of Wiglaf's hands, leaving the young boy standing undefended on the deck.

Frozen in his tracks, Wiglaf's eyes went wide with fright as the gaping mouth bore down on him. Rows of razor-sharpened teeth gaped wide to accept their feast, oozing blood and drool from wide-spread jaws. The crew scattered as the great head slammed into the deck, swallowing Wiglaf where he stood.

The Geatmen gaped in disbelief as Beowulf leapt down from the rail, hefting his father's sword with satisfaction, its blade now stained a sickly green with the Serpent's steaming blood. Wiglaf's head popped out from the severed neck, his kicking feet yet protruding from the Serpent's mouth.

The men let out a disbelieving laugh, fraught with wonder and astonishment, cheering with elation as they rushed to Wiglaf's side. Svein and Hondscio helped to free the gasping boy from the monstrous jaws that had devoured him.

"Blech!" said Wiglaf, shaking his saliva-covered head. "Eaten by a Sea-Serpent!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I believe that The Saga of Beowulf is a story that will be enjoyed from an extensive audience - male, female, young, old and everyone in between. The writing and characters come to life upon the pages, as Mr. Johns pens an unforgettable journey of a man who becomes known to all. A difficult journey fraught with battles, death and hardship - but a journey that must be traveled.

I recommend The Saga of Beowulf to anyone looking for an engrossing story that they can really sink their teeth into. This is one that I hope to reread again in the future and to share with my children when they are older. I wanted to also mention that the cover art is fantastic and really captures the essence of the story.

- April - Café of Dreams - March 26, 2009


"An Outstanding Novel"

Beowulf. The very name conjures images of a powerful warrior, quests, and battles, and whether familiar with the epic poem or not, it’d be a quest in of itself to find someone who hasn’t at least heard the name Beowulf. There have been numerous retellings of the classic poem, from John Gardner’s Grendel to the recent CGI movie, but The Saga of Beowulf is in fact, one of the finest retellings of the poem that can be found spanning all forms of media.

Rounding out at nearly 620 pages, not including a detailed map and several pages of a glossary for names and places, The Saga of Beowulf is a hefty tome, but every one of those pages in pure literary goodness. Author Johns takes the epic poem to the next level in this novel, expanding on characters, battles, politics, quests, and culture, all while staying faithful to the original work. Everything, whether a simple meal or a fierce battle, is created with such intricate detail and an authentic touch, it allows the reader to see, feel, and experience the lifestyle of the people. Characters that are often brushed over in other works as being merely Beowulf’s companions are given lives and stories of their own. When it comes to Beowulf himself, he is how readers want Beowulf to be, strong, brave, untouchable in battle, yet there’s compassion to him also. He is the model hero.

Literary purists may note that there are some deviations from the original work, but these changes are so minor and they certainly don’t take away from either The Sage of Beowulf or the epic poem. The novel truly maintains the integrity of the poem, and it’s obvious when reading it, and even more so at viewing the extensive notes on the creation of the novel at www.fantasycastlebooks.com, that it was created by author Johns to honor the original poem. Even his writing style has a lyrical, poetic feel that holds the essence of the original.

What has to be said about The Saga of Beowulf is that it makes the Old English poem accessible to those who may have avoided it before or who may have been frustrated with the verse. It can, and has, brought Beowulf back to its rightful and lofty position in literature in a way that it can be enjoyed by all people. This work isn’t just a reinterpretation of Beowulf, it’s a piece of modern day literature of high artistic value. Readers who enjoy fantasy, literature, or masterful storytelling must pick up this outstanding novel.

- Shannon Frost - TCM Reviews - March 13, 2009


"An Epic Novel Riddled with Adventure"

As a lover of all things lingual, I have been a fan of Beowulf since I first encountered it in my eighth grade AP English class. Credited as the first thing written in the English language that has survived the centuries into the modern era – though, anyone familiar with this tenth century document can tell you it barely resembles our contemporary, text-speak-addled version of the language – Beowulf is not only our finest example of the imagination of our ancestors, but it represents either our first brush with science fiction over 1,000 years ago, or one hell of a Darwinian tale. It is our Anglish version of the “hero’s journey” popularized by Ovid and Homer, and before that, who knows? One thing I can say for sure, R. Scot Johns recognized in this poem the stuff that weaves prose, and he set the strings in place for an epic novel riddled with adventure, real history, and violence of the oldest kinds.

While the story traces the path of our earliest knight-versus-dragon tale, the novel takes the story of Beowulf and Grendel to a new level, layering the action sequence of the poem with the relationship of strong characterization, detailed setting, and a plot that carries the story beyond just Beowulf’s ultimate victory over Grendel and into the history of early England. The story is paced well in that, at least at the beginning, it moves briskly through the action with detailed language and description throughout. The historical backdrop against which this novel is based is clearly researched and fairly accurate-- though it fails to reach the height of detail as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s intensely-researched ancient England historical fictions, it still manages to hold its own. The character of Beowulf, at once our archetype of masculine hero and chivalrous knight, is humanized in Johns’ work in a believable way. And the writing shows insight into craft, audience, and sequence – all points which punctuate a good genre tale.

At the same time, I do have a few gripes with this book, beginning with the tendency of the writer to wax modernist description throughout – a fault to which I find most science fiction and fantasy authors succumb, including myself. Rather than detail the moment, Johns often takes pages to describe every fine detail of the moment, which often slows the story down to a slither in the middle of the book. While Johns is no Joyce and The Saga of Beowulf no Finnegan’s Wake, the tale does grow stale in a few places, especially as we draw deeper into the politics of the Anglo-Saxons and further away from the adventure and vengeance of Griselda.

Apart from Johns’ occasional wordiness, the story is strong. Johns shows depth as a writer and skill at synthesizing the details of a real history and the pressures of genre-based fiction with the literature of Beowulf, replete with all its original mystery. I could totally see this novel reinventing itself into a series of graphic novels or an extended visual ebook, as the detail here could really lend itself to fantasy art. I would, however, encourage Johns to seek a secondary artist. While the cover art is decent, it’s a bit hokey for my tastes.

- Araminta Matthews - Front Street Reviews - March 2, 2009


"A Classic, Full of Guaranteed Enjoyment" *****

The oldest fantasy action hero is now presented in a modernized novel format. "The Saga of Beowulf" is a novelization of the epic old English poem and its most celebrated and possibly oldest example of literature with Beowulf. The very thing most fantasy and adventure novels are founded on, it is a entertaining work, that educates readers where the roots of the genre found its niche in society. "The Saga of Beowulf" is a classic, full of guaranteed enjoyment.

- Midwest Book Review, Amazon - February 6, 2009

[NOTE: This review is simply a rehash of Harriet Klausner's Amazon review from 12-14-2008.]


"A Thick Tapestry of Prose" *****

I enjoy creative retellings of older tales – and Beowulf is one of my favorites. Having enjoyed "Wealtheow" by Ashley Crownover, I was curious as to what angle R. Scot Johns would take with his Saga of Beowulf. It’s a very different retelling, yet one that I still enjoyed a great deal. The original tale of Beowulf serves as a basic outline for this richly developed story; all the elements are there, woven into a thick tapestry of prose. I’ve read some retellings of myths and legends that took entirely too many liberties with the material – this isn’t one of those.

Johns has done a remarkable job of essentially writing a good piece of historical fiction. He’s done research on the cultures contemporary to the original Beowulf – Danes, Geats, and others, exploring the interrelationships among these peoples to a great degree. This gives the story a lot more context, and fleshes it out nicely. Similarly, his characterization remains true to the original legend, but gives the characters a lot more dimension. I enjoyed how realistically they interacted with each other while dealing not only with Grendel, but with intercultural politics and disputes, and all-too-human interpersonal relationships and concerns. The troubles with Grendel, his mother, and the dragon are just one of several threads of story throughout this read.

Johns is a very detail-oriented writer; he takes four paragraphs what other writers might describe in a quarter of that space. This sometimes works to his advantage in giving a solid foundation to his story. Unfortunately, there are also places where the descriptions are too wordy, and the story drags to the point where I started skimming just to get to the next conversation or event. This is pretty much my only complaint with the book overall – for the most part I found myself immersed in the book enough that I managed to finish it a lot faster than I expected (which gave me a nice break from schoolwork!).

This is an awesome book if you want a good, solid read that will last longer than a single plane flight, but will keep your attention even through 600+ pages. Whether you take it as a retelling of Beowulf and are interested in how true it remains to that tale, or whether you approach it as its own unique work, there’s a lot to like here.

- Lupa - Green Wolf Books, Pagan Book Reviews - January 26, 2009


"Great Entertainment at a Great Price" *****

It would be hard to find anyone in the English speaking world who has never heard of Beowulf. Most could tell you he was the hero of "some old poem" who killed "that monster, Grendel." Some younger people might have seen the comic book-like movie flaunting its digitalized special effects, but most of the population will have had to have read parts of it in school, in translation.

Not many will remember why they had to read it in school, but there's a good reason: it's the first identifiable work of literature written in English. The problem is it must be read in translation (unless one is a graduate student in English, perhaps) because it was the language spoken when part of the Germanic languages split off and became modern English. We call that founding language Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. Supposedly, the verses in which the Beowulf story is told constitute very powerful poetry, but very few are able to appreciate it today. It takes work to pick out a single understandable word in two or three lines of verse, and a semester or two of college-level study to get comfortable with.

The story itself, of the hero Beowulf saving a neighboring tribe of Danes from the horrible Grendel, and later from his equally horrible mother, ultimately becoming king of his own tribe, the Geats, and dying while saving them from a ferocious fire dragon, is a dramatic one. But in addition to the language problem, the tale is made even harder to appreciate by virtue of apparently being written down by two different people hundreds of years after Beowulf lived, by the fragments of the manuscript which have disappeared, and by its being compressed possibly for purposes of recitation.

All this is by way of saying that there is a terrific story here, but how to make it accessible to today's typical readers? Author R. Scot Johns has the answer: spend ten years researching the poem and the historical documents of the era, and weave it all into a novel, a novel of 630 pages. The result of this impressive scholarship is a labor of love: an astoundingly readable, satisfyingly meaty historical tale of fierce battles, of intricate clan ties and loyalty, of Norse folklore, and of characters who develop over time to stand as distinct personalities that were only dimly glimpsed in the ancient version.

As to how Mr. Johns managed all this, he has a website (fantasycastlebooks) with extensive and interesting author's notes laying out the documents and the manner of stitching them into one continuous narrative. The book itself has glossaries of names and places, and a map of ancient Scandanavia, but these are helpful only when needed and do not intrude on the continuity of the story. There are no footnotes, for example. One might reasonably ask, "What possible prose style would suit ancient poetry rendered into a modern novel?" Mr. John's solution seems to be rather a hybrid: in places he uses what feels like Old Norse hyperbole, and in others a more sensitively observed, human-scaled style. Since the original story featured heroic deeds of strong, brave men with large swords, chain mail, and horns on their helmets fighting monsters with mythic abilities, exaggeration is only fitting, and faithful to the original. In other places, when warranted, the style eases into a more comfortable, conventional narrative, with few flights of bellicose elaboration. It retains the feel of an ancient story, yet can be enjoyed comfortably and without rescanning the lines.

As a reviewer of books, I'm inclined to want to march right through a text. At the same time, I found myself enjoying the story and wishing to slow down and immerse myself in it. Torn between these two desires, I noted that Grendel and his mother had been dealt with by the halfway point. What, I asked myself, could possibly fill the rest of the pages?

To my surprise, I found I enjoyed the second half even more than the first, with accounts of battles with normal humans (well, ancient Swedes, anyway), an ill-advised raid into Frankish territory, sea voyages, Frankish politics and military maneuvers, the puzzle of Roman ruins, struggles over kingly succession and tribal politics, courtship, and more small doses of mythology: stone-eating trolls, fearsome dwarfs, and, overseeing all, the three Fates of Norse mythology, spinning out the threads of lives, measuring and cutting them when the time comes. It's all cleanly written and edited, a few errant apostrophes notwithstanding. Mr. Johns' version of Beowulf is a terrific bargain at its current selling price. It should appeal to, and delight, those who like the original poem, those who enjoy the sword and sorcerer/dungeons and dragons type of yarn, lovers of historical fiction, and the many readers who are tired of the same old formulas and wish for something completely different.

- Dr. Al Past - PODBRAM, Amazon - January 19, 2009


"Great Read" ****

Beowulf is one of the oldest stories known to man, an epic that has captivated many generations. Many of us had to read some of Beowulf in school. I think in one of my classes we had to take a small section of the poem and translate the Old English into the English that we know today. It was hard...and it took me away from the story. I did my job, handed it in, and promptly forgot about it.

When the CGI movie of Beowulf came out, my interest in Beowulf peaked. The graphics were nicely done and while the story strayed from the original poem, I liked it well enough. So when I heard about The Saga of Beowulf, I knew I had to read it. That, and I wanted to see how someone would fare translating the long, long, LONG poem into today's English. I got bored and I only did a small paragraph, so I thought it would be interesting to read the book and find out.

I expected the book to be big, and at a massive 640 pages of small print, I wasn't disappointed. I was a little nervous in reading the book, but found that once you got into it, the story flowed very nicely. That doesn't mean that there weren't times when I was hit with a dry spot, because that does happen. The beginning and ending of the novel were fast paced and had a lot of action, but there were times in the middle portion, after Beowulf defeated Grendel and the story goes into politics, is where I felt the story started to slow down. The politics between the nations, while interesting, didn't have the same pace as the other parts of the novel, so it was a little hard to read.

Another problem that I had was the ending. I know I just said I liked it and I did, it was an awesome ending to the story of Beowulf, I just wish there was more of it. The events leading up to Beowulf's last battle were interesting, but when the actual battle happened, I was left with a feeling of, "That was it?" I wanted a little bit more description of what Beowulf was going through and how it was affecting Hæreth, Beowulf's lover. I know how this sounds - I wanted the book to be even longer. But for this particular scene, I felt like it was crucial to find out more. There is one scene where it shows what Hæreth is going through, but I just wanted more.

One thing that I did love about this story was the character of Beowulf. I liked the CGI movie but their Beowulf there, is completely different from the Beowulf here. In the movie, Beowulf is shown to be an arrogant, brass, thickheaded, brute, if you will; but in the book, he's compassionate, kind, strong. He's more human and doesn't let his achievements get to his head, which is great, since he has a pretty crappy life. If he wasn't portrayed as such, I don't think I would have felt as bad as I did for all the depressing things that happened to him.

If you are a Beowulf fan, I think you'd like The Saga of Beowulf, and if you are not a Beowulf fan, then I think you might like this as well. I had a fun time reading this.

- Popin - Popin's Lair - January 1, 2009


"A 5-Star Book Indeed!" *****

Beowulf has the distinction of being one of the earliest pieces of fiction in the English language. Though Old English bears little resemblance to the English that is spoken today. The Saga of Beowulf by R. Scot Johns is a novelization of the saga. This book is a satisfying way to get into the story of Beowulf. Johns has taken the story and made it accessible for the average reader.

Beowulf is a hero in a time when clans and families of the north are constantly feuding, and even the gods are worn out. He is a Geat, but sails to Daneland to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the ogre Grendel. He is also sailing because he isn't welcome at home since he failed to protect his Queen, and the King's present wife is still in love with him.

In Daneland, Beowulf finds a land ravaged by Grendel for the last twelve years. There are few men left. In this hard time the weak don't last and the wolves are circling. Yet facing Grendel is only the beginning of Beowulf's saga. There is bravery and cowardice, honesty and treachery, all of it described with richness and power.

Johns has captured the feel of the saga in his work. The story is populated by characters who are complex and tormented by their fate. There is some of the fatalism of the Norse tradition, but the heroes at their best struggle against it to shine brightly, if briefly, against the dark. This book is worth a read because it is one of the defining works of our language and culture, and because it is a terrific story told with great skill.

- Alex McGilvery - Armchair Interviews, Amazon - December 22, 2008


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