Top critical review
Good intro to culture, but the language part is confusing
Reviewed in the United States on November 18, 2018
I just finished working my way through this book, and there was a lot I really liked about it. The Old Norse reading selections were interesting, and so was the background reading (in English) about Norse history and society. Dr. Byock included sections about his own archeological research which added a lot.
The language sections could have been organized, written and paced better. For example, it takes a long time before you find out how to put together a simple subject - present-tense verb - object sentence. I was so confused by the third chapter that I put this book aside and found a website that went over this type of basic grammar in an organized way, then came back and started over. After that, the grammar made more sense, and everything went along fine until the last couple chapters. At that point, the grammatical information got a lot more condensed and rushed, with explanations of complicated ideas that were much too short, sometimes with no complete sample conjugations, and example texts that were hard to follow.
Here's an example of what I mean: In the Lesson 15 we go over subjunctive middle voice verbs strong and weak verbs, both past and present tense. And yeah, most of us have no idea going in what that even means, so we could really use some help! Yet the explanatory text for this is less than half a page long, including two example verbs (one strong, one weak). This is followed by a page of usage examples, which sounds helpful, except that the examples are complicated and have a LOT going on in them besides the grammatical idea being illustrated: words we haven't encountered yet (and which are not listed in the vocabulary at the back of the book), unfamiliar idiomatic expressions, parts of the sentence that are understood but not stated in words. The examples are real sentences taken from sagas, which is kind of cool in theory, but in practice makes it hard to focus on the idea they're supposed to illustrate. Old Norse grammar is complicated enough!
Despite some reservations, I would still recommend this book for learning Old Norse independently, but I'd suggest using other resources at the same time. Dr. Jackson Crawford's YouTube channel and https://notendur.hi.is/haukurth/norse/olessons/lessons.html are useful, and of course the Viking Language website, which has an answer key for the exercises. I'd also recommend getting a dictionary and the Viking Language 2 book (which is a reader) right off the bat. The readings in the first few chapters of VL2 dovetail nicely with the presentation in book 1, and the second book also has a more complete reference grammar and vocabulary section at the back of the book.
Unfamiliar vocabulary and unexplained bits of grammar also crop up in the exercises, so try not to get frustrated. Also, watch out for typos, which get more frequent as the book goes on. As just one example, the conjugation of GEFA in the chart on page 265 is incorrect.