I’ve been a bit leery of Osprey’s “Combat” series, since it’s impossible not to think ‘pirate vs. ninja’, or ‘Enterprise vs. Death Star’ when looking at their titles. But their recent electronic book giveaway included one of the more interesting books in the series, giving me a chance to try out a PDF version risk-free.

There is a good two-plus page overview of the Viking era in England, and then a chapter that tries to directly compare the two sides, and how they approached recruiting, leadership, and logistics. There’s also plenty of the usual Osprey good photographs of equipment, mostly in color. A good two-page section talks about the changes in strategy over time, including the varying amounts of ability Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had to actually call up armies.

About half the book is descriptions of three major battles of the Viking era (Ashdown, Maldon, and Stamford Bridge), which is the major attraction for me. All three are interesting battles that we know enough to say something intelligent about, though I naturally only knew anything about Stamford Bridge going in. All get good maps showing the campaign that lead up to the battle, though Osprey forgoes the bird’s eye view maps of the battlefield that is the centerpiece of the Campaign series (and I think a good Campaign book could definitely be done on Stamford Bridge, though the other two probably are too uncertain in details for that). A nice bit are some illustrations meant to show what the action looked like from in the middle of it, including a pair showing opposite views of the same scene.

There’s a four-page ‘analysis’, which is part of the entire ‘versus’ nature of the title, which in this case comes down to there not being a lot difference in general equipment and technique. What differences there are get subsumed into the details we don’t have. We know both sides used axes, though the Vikings used them more, we know Anglo-Saxon armies made use of the shield wall as a common formation, we don’t know how much the Vikings did the same, or what cohesive formations they might have commonly used.

There’s about a pages worth of aftermath, which goes into the end of Viking raids in the decades after 1066, and then there is an extensive bibliography, which spends a bit more than a page talking about the seven primary sources for the era, before the usual listing of scholarly works.

Overall, it’s a good Osprey production, and good enough that I will get some of the other more interesting volumes, but it does seem more ‘introductory’ in nature (much like the Essential History series), and remains a lesser interest for me.