Posts Tagged With: norse mythology

“Blood Eye” by Giles Kristian (giveaway included)

“Blood Eye” is the first novel in the Raven series by Giles Kristian.  When I was approached by TLC Book Tours to review a historical fiction novel about Vikings, I immediately got excited, because I had reviewed A. S. Byatt’s Ragnarok: The End of the Gods earlier this year and had been wanting to learn more about Norse culture ever since.

A brief word of forewarning… there are scenes of blood, gore, and torture in this book.  For the love of God (or Odin), don’t read it during lunchtime!  You will lose your appetite.

“Blood Eye” opens in Valhalla as Osric begins to tell the story of his life to the gods.  He doesn’t know his family.  He had been abandoned and left for dead, but Ealhstan, the kind mute village carpenter, took him in as his assistant.  The superstitious villagers alienated Osric because he has a red eye, but still his life is relatively peaceful.  One day, Norse raiders come and attack the village.  Osric realizes that he understands their language, and the raiders decide to take him with them as they continue their journey because of his value as an interpreter.  Sigurd, their leader, believes that Osric’s blood eye is a sign of Odin’s favor, and gives him a new name worthy of a warrior:  Raven.

“Blood Eye” is at its very heart a historical adventure novel.  The book follows the typical fantasy plotline of a hero embarking on a quest (in this case, stealing a valuable manuscript) and saving the damsel in distress, the princess Cynethryth (try saying that three times quickly).  Cynethryth is a relatively strong character in her own right, taking initiative and defying her father’s wishes when she feels that the Norse Fellowship is being treated unfairly.  Although it’s part of a series, the story arc is self-contained.  I approve of the ending; it leaves the promise of more action, but there isn’t a major cliffhanger.

One of the things that I loved about this book is the way that Giles Kristian weaves Norse mythology into the plot.  The Norse gods are gods of war, and so they are seen as ever-present forces any time that the Fellowship engages in battle.  This is a Viking novel, so there’s battle pretty much all the time.

While I love the depiction of the Norse religion, I felt that the author’s criticism of Christianity was unnecessarily harsh.  Not all of the priests have to be villainous, and it would have created a far more complex picture of society.  I’d have liked to see one or two Christians in the book who actually believed in the religion that they preached and were a bit more tolerant of others.  One of the central themes here seems to be how the priests can sanction atrocities of war when they claim to worship a god of peace, whereas at least the Norse are honest about what they’re doing.

I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in learning more about Norse life.  “Blood Eye” is well-written and fast-paced, packed with historical detail and bloody battles.

The publishers agreed to let me host a giveaway of the novel, which is open to readers in the US and Canada.  To enter, just leave a comment.  The giveaway will be open for a week, and I’ll pull names out of a hat on Tuesday, October 2.  Good luck!

Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | 29 Comments

“Ragnarok: The End of the Gods” by A. S. Byatt

I received a review copy of A. S. Byatt’s “Ragnarok:  The End of the Gods” from the publisher through Netgalley.  It is the most recent installment of the Canongate Myth Series, which features reinterpretations of legends and myths by contemporary authors.

A loosely autobiographical tale, “Ragnarok” tells the story of a thin girl in wartime who reads Asgard and the Gods.  She imagines the figures of Norse mythology as she frolicks through fields of flowers.  The grimness of Norse mythology parallels elements of the thin girl’s life.  She realizes that her father is never coming home from the war, and she has nightmares of Germans hiding under her bed.  In such a world, she finds the tales of Loki, Baldur, and Odin to be more satisfying and relevant than the stories she learns in Church.

One of the things that makes this book unique as a retelling of myth is the way that Byatt doesn’t try to give the characters modern personalities, but rather gives them the same attributes by which they are characterized in the original legends.  Loki was my favorite, as he delights in the forces of chaos.

Chaos pleased him.  He liked things to get more and more furious, more wild, more ungraspable, he was at home in turbulence.  He would provide turbulence to please himself and tried to understand it in order to make more of it.  He was in burning columns of smoke in battlefields.  He was in the fury of rivers bursting their banks, or the waterfalls of high tides throwing themselves over flood defences, bringing down ships and houses.

With Loki’s character, Byatt captures that odd sense of satisfaction derived from wildness and disorder.

The story of Ragnarok is a story of destruction, and of the fallibility of even the gods.  The ending is inevitable and grim, and yet the story itself is beautiful.  The thin child clings to the stories as she begins to understand the pressures of the adult world and to realize the fallibility and humanity of her own parents.

I enjoyed this story tremendously, although I do wish that the author would have italicized the handful of quotes from Asgard.  Byatt’s poetic language made me happy, although it might not suit readers who become frustrated by long descriptions of nature.  Up until this point, I had not read much Norse mythology.  This book served as a good introduction.

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As many of you know, I’m a bit obsessed with Ursula K. Le Guin.  She also wrote a review of “Ragnarok:  The End of the Gods,” which can be found here.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

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