A long time ago, all of the great Norse gods and goddesses died in the Last Battle. Only a handful of Valkyrie survived and were sent to Midgard (Earth). Each of them was tasked by Odin All-father to protect powerful artifacts that once belonged to the gods themselves, holding on for their possible return one day.   

And so the Valkyrie waited. And waited.

Until the events of World War II moved them into action. Tired of waiting and tired of not fighting in the countless wars that came before, the Valkyrie Mist urged her sisters to help the humans in their time of need and to use the powerful artifacts they each held. The consequences of their hubris* and mingling in human affairs were swift.

In modern-day San Francisco, Mist is finally making a life of her own still guarding—but never using—Odin’s Gungnir, the Spear that never misses its mark. Until, in just one day, a series of seemingly impossible events happen: She is attacked by a Frost Giant in a public park; comes across Dainn, a magic Elf in disguise; and realizes that her boyfriend was actually the trickster god Loki all along. And now he has taken Gungnir.

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As it turns out, the Aesir are not dead after all—they have been merely cut off in another dimension. But now the bridges are open again and Midgard is in danger, caught in a deadly game between gods. Mist and her new ally Dainn must do anything they can to protect their artifacts from falling in the wrong hands. And then Mist learns a secret that changes everything.

Is there anything more frustrating to a reader than a book that shows a lot of promise and potential to start with but then goes off its tracks and derails completely into a confusing mess?

First the good: I love the premise of Susan Krinard's Mist, with the Valkyrie protecting powerful artifacts. The opening chapter, taking place during WWII, was a powerful introduction to their story portraying the Valkyrie in their emotional struggle between doing what they have always done (i.e. obey the gods as their servants) and developing a different way of life. I particularly enjoyed Mist’s take on that struggle, her choice to go from observer and servant to a strong fighter with agency. At the beginning, she really convinced me as a powerful and smart gods-defiant and angst-ridden champion.     

But unfortunately, I felt all of this promise went wayward when the book suddenly changed tracks half way through. First of all, there was the abrupt point-of-view change. For the first seven chapters, the story is solely from Mist’s viewpoint. Then, all of a sudden, Dainn’s voice is introduced, then Loki’s, then even a few random paragraphs from a secondary character. It’s weird since it starts quite late into the story but also since it kind of detracts from the plot—some of it relies heavily on the secrets being kept from Mist, and since those are secrets that obviously both Dainn and Loki are privy of, Mist often comes across as frustratingly naïve. This would not be a problem per se if it wasn’t for the fact that it clashed so much with the portrayal of Mist as an extremely clever person for the first 7 chapters.

Then we have the fact that the main storyline shifts and the story becomes all about how Mist is the Most Powerful and Unique Being in the History of Ever (without even knowing about it) and who is also Beautiful Beyond Compare (without even realizing it). Without spoiling The Secret, it is hard to suspend disbelief that the above—her magic, her specific type of power, her extreme beauty—never made an appearance before. I am not going to mention the fact that the goddess Freya is merely reduced to how hot she is or that characters who have known each other for about 48 hours are willing to throw their lives away for one another, no actual relationship development needed.  

Those problems are compounded by how the story is exposition heavy with back story and action-halting explanations that make the book rather…bland and emotionless. The actual development of the characters and storylines did not have enough depth to allow for us to care about the many emotional punches the book throws at the characters. 

And finally, my main problem with the novel? The writing of the few LGBT and PoC characters. First of all, there is the implied attraction that one minor male character has for another male character. Then, the book features rape and sexual molestation, all of them always man-on-man. I like what Fangs for the Fantasy had to say about it: 

Which brings me to GBLT characters – we have the implied Ryan and we have… Loki. In mythology Loki sleeps with anyone and everything up to and including the stallion Svadilfari. That alone doesn’t make him a good representation for GBLT characters. But in this book he has sex with one man – as a woman then changing his shape to a man to use as blackmail against his sex partner. And he lusts after and sexually molests Dainn, who he previously had sex with while shapeshifted to look like Frejya. There’s a whole lot of sexual predation going on here and it’s all directed at other men and leaves a general bad taste in my mouth.

Quite. The PoC characters are not better. One of them is a Japanese-American who randomly shows up in the story and magically seems to know martial arts. The other is a Mexican girl who goes around yelling expletives. This is where things made me incredibly angry not only because of the stereotype but also because some of the Spanish she spoke was wrong. At one point, she yells “idioto.” You do not say "idioto" in Spanish. It should be "idiota" for both men and women (unlike “stupid” which is gendered depending on who you are talking to). This might come across as a minor thing but to me it is incredibly offensive. Protip: If you are writing a Spanish speaking character and if you want the character to speak Spanish in the book, please do your research. Otherwise, it just sounds as though you are not being careful or respectful enough with cultures and languages not your own.

I want diversity and I want inclusion in SFF but this is not good enough, folks. Do your homework and avoid stereotypes. And I will leave it at that.  

In Book Smugglerish, a disheartened 4 (maybe 3?) out of 10.

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*Yes, I am aware I am inserting an Ancient Greek term in a Norse Mythology context.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.