Raef Skallagrim wants to take the sea road. His ship is fast and sleek, his crew skilled and eager, and they will seek out new lands and win fame in the eyes of the gods. But Raef’s father refuses to allow the journey and when a stranger brings word that the king is dead and a gathering has been called to choose a successor, Raef must set aside his dream for his duty to his ancestral lands and his father.
When factions split at the gathering to choose a successor, Raef finds himself mired in bloodshed and treachery. Forced to make an uneasy alliance with a man he does not trust, Raef must navigate the tides of a war among three kings while seeking revenge for cold-blooded murder.
But winter has come early to Midgard, and even the gods will feel the cold.
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I found this book enjoyable but not one I will return to again and again. It had all the elements which ought to have made it an epic, gripping Norse story: a war with many battles, a contentious selection of a king at a gathering, loyal warriors, shieldmaidens, quests, a mysterious sorceress, half gods, including a strange half god who sees the future, and yet something was missing.
A king dies and a new king is chosen but not everyone believes the right choice was made. War among the local lords breaks out as a result, as they themselves vie to be recognized as the next king.
The main character, Raef Skallagrim collects some new companions during the first few chapters of the narrative, Vakre and the shieldmaidens Eira and Siv. They soon become his closest defenders. I was unable to figure out their motivation for following him, due to a lack of characterisation. Eira, Raef’s love interest is described as having long dark curly hair, being extremely handy in a fight and wild and warm in bed – but that’s pretty much all. We have even less to go on with Siv, apart from her long red gold braid, captivating smile and handiness in a fight. Without any depth of character it’s hard to become invested in these people. I think the story would have been improved if a couple of chapters had switched to their point of view instead of that of Raef, in whose voice the whole book is written.
There was also a lack of detailed description and emotional engagement with Raef’s story at the beginning, it felt like a list of occurrences; this happened then that happened then some people died etc etc, with not enough change of pace during action sequences to make it compelling. It was therefore difficult to become invested in the outcome and my attention kept drifting. This improved as the book went on and the second half was more compelling.
Another mysterious character is the DeepMinded, a kind of sorceress (or is she) who affects Raef’s mind and makes his wrist burn with searing pain every so often. He begins to hear voices in his head when he feels this sensation of warmth in his wrist and it becomes the voice of the Deepminded herself cursing the nine realms, especially Asgard and Odin. During these episodes Raef loses control of his actions and emotions – the first time he experiences this he attacks his friend Vakre thinking him an enemy. Later we discover the Deepminded is not who she seems.
As the story went on I appreciated the map provided at the beginning of the book. Many different territories are referred to and it was useful to be able to refer back to the map.
The author had clearly done their research and was knowledgeable about how a battering ram was wielded, shield walls and plenty of Norse mythology was referred to as well.
The final battle was exciting and a nice way of rounding up the end of the story. An enjoyable story all in all and I will read the other two books in this trilogy.