Snorr Haemarsson, a skald, and Krym Freidleifsdottur, a spaekona (so a fortuneteller) has known and loved each other for ages. Unfortunately they are singled out to become pawns in the power play between Thor, Odin and Loki so their love is going to be severely tested.
Snorr kills Krym’s twin brother Hrut. Although Krym suspects Hrut, not the brightest or the nicest tool in the garden shed, should be blamed for the whole incident a family blood feud is started. For Krym it is a chance to prove her worth to her own clan – so far her father has been very disappointed with her meager abilities. He pronounced her good only for childbearing, a horrible insult for such an ambitious girl. She is gifted – she can channel frodleikur (a kind of magical superpower) but so far even her fortune telling was rather unimpressive. Now, with the help of Loki’s daughter, Hel, she becomes a volva (a far more potent sorceress) and creates a set of unique living runes.
Krym decides to avenge herself on her beloved and gain the recognition among her kinsfolk. She’s got the best chance after all – she can lure Snorr into a trap pretending she wants to date him. Snorr meets her in the forest and is sweet-talked into entering and robbing the fresh grave of Hrut, allegedly to retrieve her father’s belt with a golden buckle which would serve as Krym’s dowry. Unfortunately he doesn’t know that Krym has prepared her brother’s body beforehand, cutting the bonds on his feet and making Hrut ready to raise as a draugr – something between a vampire and a zombie. Snorr wakes the draugr stealing the belt and initiates a disastrous chain of events which will lead him and Krym to Asgard and Nilfheim – two of Nine Worlds inhabited by Norse gods and goddesses.
What I liked:
It was a fast-paced story with an intricate plot based on Norse religion, a bit long but very readable. It is obvious the author has made a lot of research because everything sounded plausible, especially the scenes in which he is recreating the habits, culture and ordinary life of the Vikings (at least in my humble opinion and I am hardly a scholar). The fantasy world building was fun to discover although I must warn you, the book is a bit bloody and violent. Well, those were rather ruthless times. As Snorr is hell-bent on becoming a hero, he must make some sacrifices even though Thor himself wants him to succeed. Also Krym has to pay for her gift, sometimes not even being aware of the price – when you deal with such tricky gods as Loki everything might happen.
What I didn’t like:
I admit it took me some time to understand all those Norse terms like ‘frodleikur’ or ‘spaekona’ but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the narration. I also regretted the fact that there was so little action from Loki, my all-time favourite Norse deity and not many lighter, humorous scenes.
My only real complaint concerns the character of Krym. She is one mean, spiteful woman, especially after she became a volva. She is one of these women who crave power – I was really sick and tired with her endless plotting how to get Snorr and everybody else around her doing what she wanted them to do. I simply gagged when she told her future husband how she wanted to conceive a Valkyrie– it was as if she planned a highly effective in vitro pregnancy procedure, thinking just about material gains it might bring. He said ‘no’, finding it unmanly, but did it stop our lovely Krym? Absolutely not. She was still focused selfishly only on herself, her own glory, needs and plans. There is even a scene in which she rapes her betrothed to get pregnant on her own terms (I must grant the author – a very original premise but still revolting, a rape is a rape). True, Krym helps Snorr as they need each other badly to defeat that monster but let’s not forget the fact that she was more responsible for releasing that draugr than him – she led Snorr to his grave with premeditation. I felt hardly any chemistry between them and the ending left me wondering whether Snorr did the right thing, protecting and taking care of Krym during their ordeal. I would let her die – quite accidentally of course.
Finally the cover. I don’t think it is in accordance with the character of this book. Not really.
If you enjoy darker fantasy and like Norse mythology this novel might be right up your street. I don’t regret reading it despite my reservations concerning the female lead because it is a very well-written and original book.