Form: e-book, mobi format
Genre: fantasy fiction
Target audience: adults
Authun a Viking king has a problem – he is childless. He is not just any king, mind you, he is Authun the Pitiless and his exploits are legendary. He must ensure his people will be led by somebody at least as good as him or better. In short his son.Acting on the prophecy of the witch queen Gullveig, he raids an Anglo-Saxon village looking for a promised infant. He finds twins instead, with their disfigured mother. One he keeps and names Vali; the other, Feileg, is kept by Gullveig herself to serve as her protector; the boy is sent to be schooled in the animalistic magic of the berserkers and wolf people. However, the prince and the wolf boy are entwined in the same web of destiny – over the years, the twins become pawns in the complex game of magical subterfuge that is the eternal war between Odin and Loki.
The tale moves forward. Vali is brought up in a peaceful village, leading a lifestyle which makes him value pursuits other than those expected of a son of Authun the Pitiless. He is known as Vali the Swordless for one thing and, to make it even worse, he falls for a simple peasant girl, Adisla, refusing to marry a princess designated to be his wife. In short Vali is a prince who doesn’t want to play the role expected of him– he abhors fighting and he intends to lead a “normal” life (normal from our point of view of course). Unfortunately his fate will be a bit different.
The princess’s father, another local ruler, wants to get rid of Vali but he must do it in a very diplomatic way – the wrath of Authun can be deadly. He tricks the young prince (Vali is thirteen at that time but we are talking about a society in which a 35-year-old man is called old so, I suppose you can place Vali’s age somewhere around 18) into bringing him a head of a werewolf or even better, capturing a live werewolf. Adisla’s life depends on it. Vali goes werewolf hunting and, quite unexpectedly even for himself, returns with his twin brother, Feileg, who, in the meantime, became a real beast of a man, hunting with his bare hands and teeth and living like a wild animal in the forest. Soon after Vali’s triumphal return Danes raid the village and, despite the heroic defense led by Vali, they manage to steal Adisla away. Vali finds out it was not an accident – they were looking specifically for the girl, even knew her name. What did they need a simple peasant girl for?
Vali, now an outlaw, with his faithful mentor and bodyguard, Braggi, and Feileg, who managed to fall in love with Adisla in no time, set out to rescue his beloved and find out more about the mysterious raid. He never imagines how the journey will change him.
What I liked:
This novel was a good page turner – it begins as a historical Viking story but soon it turns into a battle between ancient Gods and other magical powers, with a nice touch of horror along the way (nice meaning original, not pleasant – there are plenty of entertaining but brutal action scenes). Fortunately the author didn’t forget to add some sense of humour to the mix, making it all more palatable.
The characterization of main characters was excellent, particularly that of Vali and later his twin wolf brother, Feileg. It was easy to feel empathy for these two, even when their actions were brutal and bloody. It added to a dark atmosphere, a pervasive bleakness against which the characters had to strive; it also fitted perfectly with the Viking setting. There was a constant sense of an oppressive destiny bearing down on Vali, but the reader is kept guessing as to exactly what that is until quite far into the story. Also I admitthe rivalry and suspense around the twin brothers was well-played – even the love triangle with Adisla didn’t annoy me as much as such ugly plot tricks usually do.
What’s more, the whole world building and, more precisely, the depiction of the use of magic and the Norse Runes I found truly excellent. Lachlan stayed close to the shamanistic nature of Norse religion and the effect was very powerful indeed. I am hardly a Norse mythology and culture expert so I might be mistaken but it somehow resonated right. I found the way that magic consumes and distorts those who use it particularly striking. For example the witch queen allegedly had enough power to kill her sisters without lifting her little finger and she could become a deity of a kind but she paid for it a horrible price – her body, seasoned to endure torture and hardship beyond belief, remained forever that of a child. You get nothing for nothing. Even the witches have to earn their magic in all manner of unspeakable ways, while the Gods do not bestride this novel as all-powerful beings — rather, they scheme and operate from behind the scenes, especially Loki, my all time favourite.
Speaking of Loki…I was very nicely surprised that, for a character who is barely present in the novel, he steals every scene he appears in. And very rightly so! I would love to see more of the Trickster God in subsequent novels! I loved his dialogues, like the one I am quoting below:
“You chose imperfection — what could be more perfect? You saw your imperfection was perfection and therefore remedied it by imposing an imperfection on yourself thereby becoming perfect again. The logic is imperfectly flawless.”
What I didn’t like:
Firstly, the character of Adisla, the main squeeze of two protagonists, was rather sketchy – I really was wondering what Vali and Feileg saw in that girl because neither her actions nor appearance justified sufficiently such deep feelings and everlasting devotion. She was kind and pretty, she swam like a seal, she was loyal but also a bit tame, especially compared to those two brothers.
Secondly I found it sometimes really hard to get into Lachlan’s writing style. It was too detached for me, and too often leaned on telling rather than showing. At times it was more like reading a newspaper article than a novel. The lack of warmth and immediacy really stopped me from becoming invested in the book as much as the story was worth.
Finally the fact that the magic system, presented here, involved so many deaths (and, more particularly, the death of children) to make things work, made me a little uncomfortable. It is true that the magical context was well-explained and logical but still…it doesn’t change the fact that these Norse witches were icky sadistic psychopaths and some ‘exploits’ of Authun and his son made me nearly nauseatic.
I finished the book caring about the characters and wanting to know what happens next. That is a good sign. Of course the book wasn’t flawless but, taking into account the fact that it is a debut novel, it really wasn’t bad. I am willing to continue this series. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Norse mythology and Viking stories with a dash of supernatural.