Description from goodreads:
OND ELDR. BREATHE FIRE.
Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient, rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.
Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.
She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.
Mmmkay. I’ve wanted to read this book since before it came out, and I feel like I was on the Overdrive waitlist for years (it actually just came out eight months ago). Scroll to the end if you don’t want to read my babbling.
When I finally (finally) got it, I was in a tiny slump. I ended up finding the audiobook on Overdrive (miraculously available) and checked it out, too, because my ebook loan was ending in like 2.5 days. I finished it in almost exactly one day.
If I’m honest, I’m slightly disappointed because of my genre expectations. I kept seeing this shelved as fantasy, so, you know, I kind of expected some fantasy. Dragons, or maybe magic of some sort, other creatures, something. Maybe I’m being too picky about this, but really the only “fantasy” element was that it was set in a not-quite-real, but probably-Scandinavian-like place. Kind of like Ravka or Kerch from the Grishaverse (minus all the magic).
This reminded me a little of The Valiant by Lesley Livingston (reviewed here). That one was also a female warrior story (gladiators!), marked as fantasy, but it was (imo) historical fiction. Historical fiction is the closest thing I could think of to shelve this one. I mean, I don’t think the gods from this are taken directly from any Norse names (or other pantheons), but I haven’t studied the mythology so extensively as to know the name of every god from every region, so… Ok, if a couple of gods were invented for this, maaaaybe it counts as fantasy?
I really liked this book. I didn’t love it enough to add it to my favorites shelf, but I did enjoy reading it, and I read it super fast. Once things got going, I didn’t want to put it down.
I liked Eelyn. I think she reacted the way a young warrior would react to the situations she was placed in, and we weren’t spoon-fed things about her character and her life. Things might have been said or otherwise pointed out by another character, but it was after we’d already seen those things in multiple incidents. So, the showing and not telling was good.
The worldbuilding was great, at least for me. I felt like I could see the mountain, the fjord, the villages, everything. It wasn’t super heavy with the descriptions, but it was just enough for my imagination to create the scenes. The character descriptions were a little more vague, I think, but good enough for me to be able to kind of “see” the characters. I do remember there being descriptions of things like their hair, scars, and maybe some clothing. Basically, I never got characters confused because they were all distinct, I just couldn’t imagine what they looked like in perfect detail.
I liked watching Eelyn’s development through the book. It didn’t feel forced or rushed. Maybe a tiny bit fast at times, but there were reasons, and those reasons were good reasons for her to change her mind about things as quickly as she did. And, even after she changed her mind, it wasn’t immediately the exact opposite of her previous beliefs. She still had doubts and questioned whether or not she was doing the right thing.
The romance was just meh. I don’t have anything against romances, but honestly I get tired of it being in so many books sometimes (this is all me, and sometimes I love romance in books, it just depends on my mood). It’s fine. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. It wasn’t quite insta-love, so that was good, but it just seemed weird and unnecessary to me. (While it wasn’t insta-love, there were definitely bits early on that were like flashing neon signs saying, “Hey! These two are going to have a thing!” Honestly, if I’d re-read the description before picking this up, I might have passed on it because the romance is mentioned there, I just forgot about it )
My personal “meh” feelings about romances in books aside, it was handled pretty well. It wasn’t insta-love, as I said, and it felt pretty natural. There weren’t any tropes like the two being separated by some BS reason, or driven apart by miscommunication, which I appreciated. So, I’m not crazy about the romance in here, but it’s honestly probably one of the best I’ve read in a while.
Even though I liked Eelyn, and most of the characters we got to know for more than a few scenes, I think Halvard was my favorite. He’s an adorable and sweet kid, and I loved how the story ended for him oh my gosh.
I think if you’re wanting to read this because you want non-stop action, you should adjust your expectations, though. The very beginning drops you straight into battle, and then last maybe 20% or so of the book are pretty fast paced (it actually ended a lot faster than I would have liked), but the rest of the book is not as action-packed. The middle is pretty character focused, which I liked. I never felt like the pace was too slow.
Possible spoiler alert for the trigger warnings that follow: Also, this book can be brutal. Definitely trigger warnings if you have issues with battle scenes, blood, sacrificial animals, physical violence descriptions, and (kind of) sexual assault. That last one, there was no rape. But one character made it pretty clear that they were strongly considering raping a character, and then bound her–half naked–to a tree, and left her to freeze to death.
The short version:
I really liked this book. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting (no mythical creatures or magic or other things I would associate with “fantasy,” the characters weren’t exactly Vikings, but Viking-inspired, and there was a romance thrown in), but I still enjoyed it for what it is.
The beginning and end are pretty fast paced, with the middle being slower, but not in a bad way. It held my attention, and watching the characters develop and go through stuff was interesting, for me.
It wrapped up a little abruptly, but it wasn’t horrible. It just went from super-action-packed scenes on one page, to normal, everyday life on the next. But, I don’t think anything was left unaddressed, so it’s fine.
I didn’t love the romance, I didn’t hate it. I just feel like it was unnecessary
I gave it 4 out of 5 stars, and I would probably recommend it.