The ending is sad (but since this is only the first book in the series, I'm not TOO worried about that), but otherwise, this book is kind of perfect. By that I mean Tessa Gratton - a scholar of Old English who previously translated 'Beowulf' - does a really wonderful job of weaving Norse mythology and Anglo-Saxon saga tradition into a young adult novel set in the contemporary world, tweaked with Germanic folkways. And - oh, yeah - the Norse gods are real.
The plot draws heavily on the Norse myth of the death of Baldur, traditionally the most beloved son of Odin. Yet Baldur is a secondary character to Soren Bearskin (that's Bears' Kin rather than Bear Skin), the mortal son of Berserker who went TOO berserk, filled with his own dawning battle-rage and destined to be like his father, yet not like him.
Soren is just beginning to realize how deeply he loves his friend Astrid, the daughter of a famous fortune-teller and a fortune-teller herself, when Baldur fails to make his annual return from the land of death. Baldur, who represents the sun, is sort of like a phoenix, who dies and then rises from his own ashes - at least, he has until now. Soren and Astrid set off on an adventure, guided by fate and joined by a new friend, the strange Loki's Kin girl named Vider. There are trolls, but just little ones. Their goal is to find the apple orchard of Idun, the keeper of youth and immortality, and when they get there, nothing is as it seems.
One of the really brilliant things about this book is the nature of reality in it: the gods are real and interact with mortals (Vider, it turns out, knows Loki personally, and Soren meets Loki's daughter Fenris Wolf), but are also spoken of in myths, and there are different versions. The gods could tell mortals their own true histories, but they choose to let the mortals create their own versions, because even the gods have agendas, and it wouldn't suit their ends to have their full stories known. The gods are mysterious, and even Astrid's foresight can't reveal everything about the journey she and Soren will make...
Resulting in a sad ending. I hope the next book in the series makes right what was "wrong" with the ending. I also hope Loki gets to play a bigger role in the next book. When he appears, it's as a sullen teenage boy. The myths about him make him the mother of Fenris (he became a female wolf and lived among a pack of wild wolves; all were slaughtered except Loki, and he then discovered his belly swollen with Fenris), but she calls him "Father." I would like Tessa Gratton to tell me more about Loki.
Gratton's conception of Freya is very interesting as well. Most of what I've read associated the queen of the Valkyries with the All-Mother Frigg. I've never read anything else that associated Freya with Hel, the queen of the world of the dead. Hel is usually called Loki's daughter, along with Fenris and the Midgard Serpent (Loki's three children with his frost giant mistress). I like this twist, making the goddess of love and war Freya one with the death-goddess.
The Goddess who embraces the souls of warriors at death should be the one who watches over their shades - which is part of the traditional mythology, that dead warriors feast with Freya and become her lovers. Hel is usually thought of more of ruling over the souls of dead mortals, I think, but I think this is a really interesting twist. Maybe Freya, Frigg, and Hel are the trinity or triple goddess in Norse mythology, equivalent to Persephone-Demeter-Hecate in Greek mythology and the triple goddess The Morrigan in Irish mythology?
If I lived in this universe, which god would I choose to follow? I'd probably belong to Freya, like Astrid does. Either Freya or Frigg, although the temptation to belong to Loki would be there as well.
It's really different from any other YA novel I've read before. It's fascinating. So other than wanting more, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I look forward to the next one, The Strange Maid. It won't be out until June 10, 2014, but you can preorder it now.
I got this book free in exchange for a review through Amazon Vine. I was not otherwise compensated for this review, which represents my own honest opinion.