I am not someone who has a ton of background in Norse mythology, and much of what I know comes from pop culture movies and series like the Avengers. I’m not sure why, but mythology in general whether it’s Roman, Egyptian, Norse etc, I’ve never taken the time to really dive into it. So, when I hit it in fantasy, I’m usually left googling terms and whatnot to help myself along. This wasn’t too overwhelming for me though, which can happen sometimes. I really enjoyed myself with this and it left me with a sense that I do want to go and find out more about the lore that this book was inspired by.
It starts out with two guys in a cave seeking shelter from a storm… but they had picked an occupied cave. This is based in a time where Christianity and the Old Ways butted heads and were at war with each other, both ideologically and at times, physically. The cave owner is of the Old Ways, and begrudgingly says they can spend the night in the cave, but all bets are off in the morning. The two Christians didn’t take him seriously enough, because the older of the two got his head smashed in and beaten near to death at first light. The younger Christian wasn’t even a man, but a woman in disguise to make travel easier and safer for her. She’s incredibly devout and is absolutely distraught over her companions beating. She wasn’t given many choices though, she either helps the “barbarian” Grimnir and act as a guide, or she can die.
Etain is essentially Grimnir’s prisoner as he treks across Europe trying to find his old rival who killed his brother years ago. Grimnir starts telling Etain impossible things, like he’s been alive for over a thousand years and he is the last of “his kind”. He calls her god the Nailed God, the god of the milk drinkers and doesn’t respect her much at first.
It would be impossible for Etain and Grimnir to be more different from one another than they are already written. Etain wants to believe in the best of people, she abhors violence, she loves her God, she tries to do the right thing, and is empathetic with other people. Grimnir is bent on revenge, he’ll kill people if it suits him, and he’s overall an ornery bastard. I love that kind of thing, it creates for great foil, great conversation, and interesting dichotomies. That isn’t to say they are static characters though, they start to effect each other and rub off on each other creating a dynamic that’s entertaining to watch unfold.
I found the dialogue in this to be fantastic. I can get overwhelmed and bored by dialogue that sounds too archaic and forcibly “Norse”, where it doesn’t feel natural or smooth. The dialogue here though was lightly done with a mild overtone of Norse which didn’t overwhelm me or turn me off, but still provided a genuine sense of atmosphere and character. The writing style for the narrative was also pretty distinct in that it used a lot of imagery, metaphors and similes but still managed to be quick about it. That’s a really difficult thing to pull of, but for me, it worked well.
This was self described as historical fantasy on my review request form – and since I am so not knowledgeable on this particular time period, or history in general, others may get more out of the history aspect than I did. Although this was slightly outside my normal wheelhouse, I very much so enjoyed myself. I can feel the passion that went into this and it felt like something that had been heartily researched. I read that Grimnir was an Orc taken from Tolkeins world and made to be the last of his kind surviving ina norse world where myths are real. Taken from an interview from Nerd daily “Grimnir himself is a mixture of Grendel from Beowulf, Conan of Cimmeria, and two particular Orcs from The Lord of the Rings (book rather than film): Grishnákh from The Two Towers and Shagrat from The Return of the King. The series’ conceit being: what if JRRT had found inspiration for his Orcs from a nearly identical creature in Norse myth? ”
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 13/15
- World Building: 15/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 9/10