Chamberlin’s (The Sword and the Well, 2014, etc.) first book in a new historical series follows a warrior woman’s search for honor and identity.
Brynhild is determined to escape the traditions and deprivations of her Angles tribe after her second cousin and best friend, Uddrun, takes Brynhild’s place as a ritual sacrifice to cleanse the pain, loss and anger that have resulted from a hard winter. Brynhild gets her wish when she’s chosen to become a Valkyrie, a warrior woman who takes the souls of dead fighters to Valhalla. After taking up her mantle as a Valkyrie, Brynhild begins to chafe at yet another set of customs and restrictions, as her increased power can only be used at the direction of Odin. Meanwhile, Signy, the daughter of a warrior formerly favored by Odin, is married to the brutal Ermenaric, king of the Goths. Lonely and pregnant, she struggles to make an acceptable life for herself in the harsh land of her husband. At the same time that Brynhild begins to question more and more of her orders, Signy finds faces from her past that lead her down a new path. An air of mystery hangs over the novel, as magic and storytelling seem to be indistinguishable. It’s never clear if Odin is truly a god or simply a clever, charismatic man who has manipulated mythology to gain power. Though the novel does an excellent job showing many different forms of femininity and highlighting women’s struggles with identity, the story often seems heavy-handed in its focus on gender roles. Actions, occupations and physical features are constantly delineated into categories of male and female, with much discussion of characters fitting into, or rebelling against, their gender roles. Rather than let the details speak for themselves, Chamberlin forcibly connects everything to her dominant theme.
An action-packed but troubled weaving of historical fiction and fantasy that labors under the burdens of the points it tries to make.