Thursday, October 05, 2023

The Waking of Angantyr by Marie Brennan: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Waking of Angantyr by Marie Brennan

The Waking of Angantyr is based on an old Norsk saga the author had come across during her academic studies and found lacking in excitement, so much so that she decided to give the story a new spin. She does it with a well-researched historical setting (not reflected by the cover) and a lot of goriness.

Hervor is a bondmaid, a person forced to work in the service of a jarl’s household until she earns her freedom. Only, she knows she’ll never be allowed to do so. That’s not even her biggest grief. She can hear dead people and the residents in the village think she’s cursed. Turns out, she’s a berserker. Pain can turn her into a bloodthirsty warrior no one can stop.

After an incident where Hervor kills a man, a blood witch tells her she can silence the voices and sends her on a quest through the land for a person who knows best. It’s not an easy journey; she’s an escaped bondmaid hunted by everyone. But she has occasional help, like from a group of Vikings who teach her how to fight and eventually help her to the source of the voices in her head.

They are Angantyr and his twelve sons, berserkers who have been killed in what was outwardly an honest duel. Foul play behind the duel has kept the spirits from moving on though, and it’s up to Hervor to avenge them. In order to manage it, she’s given Angantyr’s cursed sword with dire warnings that she ignores. She shouldn’t have.

This was an excellent book. From a gloomy and hopeless start, Hervor forges herself a path through a violent society to do what she needs to do in order to live in peace. She leaves behind a trail of bodies, most of them unintentional when her berserker side takes over. There aren’t really any good things in her life, and the brief respites are always followed by more pain.

The story is set in a pre-Christian Norsk society with a set hierarchy, strict laws, and its own pantheon that doesn’t utilize the overused Odin’s. People and settings weren’t described much though, and I relied on my own knowledge of the era to bring it alive. From a relatively realistic beginning, the story gradually evolves towards more fantastical, but so naturally it doesn’t seem like a shift in the genre.

Hervor was a formidable character, but while I rooted for her, I’m not sure I liked her very much. The ending is good and conclusive, but Hervor had to sacrifice so much for it, I’m not sure I’d call it a happy ending as such. But I’m satisfied with it.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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