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Non-fiction reviews: Ellis Rowan and three other titles.

There’s little evidence that Viking women fought in battle as popular television drama would have it. Yet Norse sagas are full of powerful, ferocious heroines, from the valkyries – supernatural beings who decide who will die in battle – to vengeful, blood-thirsty queens who use their children as political pawns. While historically unreliable, the sagas highlight the ‘‘horrific costs’’ women paid in ‘‘an unyielding culture of honor’’, says Johanna Katrin Fridriksdottir. At the same time, however, Norse laws gave married and widowed women considerable rights and security. The author’s dilemma, in this scholarly study, is to reconcile the larger-than-life legends of monstrous mothers and terrifying shield maidens with the more mundane and complex reality of daily life for Viking women from childhood to old age.

The School of Restoration
Alice Achan & Philippa Tyndale
Allen & Unwin, $32.99

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‘‘Why am I still alive,’’ Alice Achan asked herself, ‘‘when almost every person I rose for each morning is gone?’’ Her happy childhood in a village in northern Uganda had been shattered by the Lord’s Resistance Army and she was paralysed by grief. After years of struggling to get an education and a diploma in social work, she still felt overwhelmed by the brutal experiences of girls who had been abducted by rebels. An urgent desire took hold of her to open a school for these survivors of sexual violence. ‘‘In the school of my dreams, girls would be nurtured by their teachers, and learn that they are equal to any other person.’’ Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this against-all-odds story of the academy she founded is Achan’s and her students’ conviction that only forgiveness ‘‘can release us from the bondage of bitterness’’.

On Hope
Daisy Jeffrey
Hachette, $16.99

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When Daisy Jeffrey, one of the organisers of the School Strike 4 Climate, was asked to write this essay, it was to be ‘‘On Change’’, which she regarded as ‘‘a hell of a lot easier than ‘On Hope’ ’’. Not surprisingly, given the patronising opposition that the movement is up against, this essay – bursting with the energy and longing of adolescence – swings between hope and despair as Jeffrey struggles to keep up with her school work while taking to the world stage to give voice to young peoples’ fears for the future. In documenting how she became an activist, she demonstrates that the only lasting antidote to the feelings of helplessness that breed despair is working for change. She doesn’t want adults to put their hope in young people, she wants everyone to take responsibility and take action.

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