The Vikings hold a curious fascination for modern audiences, but popular fiction writers and Hollywood film makers have offered romanticized, sanitized versions of the raiders who terrorized Medieval Europe. In this scrupulously researched historical novel, Swedish author Jan Fridegard (1897-1968) depicts the gritty struggle for existence that comprised Viking life in the early 9th Century. The story focuses not on a handsome, burly, blond warrior but on Holme, the brooding, dark-haired thrall of a petty chieftain. Fridegard interweaves Holme's struggle to win freedom for himself and his wife with the conflict between Scandinavian paganism and the Christianity preached by the emissaries of Louis the Pious. Robert Bjork's crisp translation represents the first time Fridegard's highly respected "Holme" trilogy has been available to English readers. "Land of Wooden Gods" is the first volume; his translations of the second and third books, "Sacred Smoke" and "People of the Dawn," will be issued in early 1990.