Anthony Ryan: Hi John. Congratulations on The Shadow of the Gods, which you know I enjoyed immensely. It’s probably best if we deal with the big important questions first, to wit: what’s the difference between a sword and a seax?
John Gwynne: Hi Anthony, great to be here chatting to you. I’m so pleased you enjoyed The Shadow of the Gods, and I love your question about a seax, but before I get to that I’ve just got to say this; Vaelin Al Sorna [the main character in Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow series] is one of my favourite characters in fantasy, like, ever. He’s iconic and I imagine he will be remembered in the Fantasy Hall of Fame alongside characters such as Druss and Logen Ninefingers.
Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, onto the difference between a sword and a seax.
A seax is essentially a big knife, used during the Viking era for all manner of tasks. It’s a single-edged blade, with a broken back tapering to a point. Little to no crossguard, with the blade ranging in size roughly from 6 inches up to about 14 inches in length, although there are variations either side of these dimensions. The Norse were a practical and pragmatic people and the seax was a multi-purpose tool, useful for cutting kindling, chopping vegetables, gutting and skinning a meal, and stabbing your enemy (particularly useful whilst in the shield wall, which would be cramped conditions with little room to swing a blade, much like the Roman gladius). A sword during the same period was longer, tended to be double-edged and with a more prominent crossguard.
Another difference is the way the seax and sword would be worn. A sword would be scabbarded and hung from a baldric or belt to hang roughly diagonally across the hip. A seax would have a scabbard with two or three suspension points and usually would hang from your belt horizontally across your front, roughly around the area of your upper thighs. This was a comfortable position for rowing.
Just to blur matters a little, there were also examples of a langseax, or long-seax during the Viking period, which is a blade with the same design as a seax (single edged, broken back, small or no crossguard) but being longer, of a roughly similar length to a sword. I’ve read various theories on why the langseax was used, and one of the ones I like the most is that the long-seax was used for ship combat, because there would be no danger from a single-edged sword in a back-swing of cutting rigging. So much of ancient history is filling in the gaps and educated guessing, so as to whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I like that logic.
Onto my first question to you, Anthony. I’ve recently read your latest novel due to be published later this year, The Pariah, which I loved. I felt a strong medieval and Robin Hood inspiration in its setting and style, though this is a much grittier tale, with a heavy dose of revenge thrown in. Can you tell me a little about your inspirations for The Pariah?