(4.5/5⭐️) “This was the threshold of something. A beginning. An ending. A choice. Once made, there would be no unmaking it. I pushed through it, stepping into the unknown.”—Jill Criswell
Infused with lore akin to Norse and Greek mythology, Jill Criswell weaves a love story that Viking lovers will enjoy. Lira is a Daughter of Aillira, one blessed with magic. She possesses the ability to read a person’s soul the way one might read a book, discovering past deeds, innocence, guilt, and much more, all with the touch of a hand. When a golden-haired warrior—a beast from the land of the frozen sun—washes up on the shores of her home, Lira saves him. But there’s something familiar about his face. And he wears an amulet that once belonged to her—lost, years ago. It would seem their fates are tied together by a bond—the skoldar. She keeps Reyker’s presence hidden from her village and her chieftain father, nursing him back to health. But before he recovers, the beaches of Glasnith are crawling with men from the land of the frozen sun, burning and pillaging, destroying everything she once called home. The wrath of the Dragon is upon them, and Lira soon finds herself battling not just for her life, but for Reyker’s soul and the freedom of her people.
I absolutely adored the Viking feel to this story. I couldn’t put it down! Each word sang within my bones as my eyes feasted on page after page. A god-gifted mortal whose love affair sparked a war between gods and men is the driving force behind all that happens to Lira. Doomed to fight the same tragic battle as her ancestor Aillira, Lira must fight for what she loves. But the odds are stacked against her, and she faces one tragedy after another.
While this is more heavily a plot driven story, Lira’s story arc takes her to a place where a man is only as good as his enemy, a hard lesson she learns through terrible events. Yet, her love for Reyker keeps her driving on. She might have given up many times, taken the easy road, but loving him is too fierce a thing to give up.
“His soul was deep. I imagined this was how it felt to leap from a mountain. When I finally touched down, I floated along the surface of an ebony river, surrounded by sheer canyon walls. The river churned, frothed, and … steamed. Black water. Black fire. Two incompatible elements—they merged and became one, cutting through the core of Reyker’s being. I dipped my hands in, lifting curls of liquid and flame that danced together within my cupped fingers.”
Reyker’s story is even more tragic. A life of awfulness has turned him into a hardened warrior without a soul—or so he might seem to most who look upon him. But Lira has the ability to read beneath the skin, and she discovers redeemable qualities within him. Their relationship buds as each learns the other’s language, culture, and innermost secrets. Reyker goes from craving death, to craving life, if only to be with Lria.
“Someone willing to listen with her heart, to find the man inside the beast. The girl who pulled me from the water, who saved me from her father’s sword. The woman who walks in my soul and drew me out of its darkness.”
And then we have Lira’s home. The island of Glasnith is governed by clan chiefs, with politics that throw off a historical Scottish vibe, while the warriors or Iseneld are more akin to Vikings. Lira’s grandfather is the chief of Clan Stone, and her father and uncle are at odds with each other to inherit the title. The family dynamic is believable, yet hard and unforgiving, as are the men of her blood.
Criswell’s world building is rich, detailed, and realistic. Her story comes with a gorgeous map, which is always a plus for me. The layers she wove were intuitive and I never once found myself confused, which can often happen when introducing multiple gods from multiple lands, each with their own history. It was all expertly done.
In regards to genre classification, if I had to guess, this is more of a older level YA or even New Adult fantasy due to some of the violence and a short love scene woven into the pages. However, I found none of it off-putting and appreciated it for what it was. In my opinion, it was necessary to paint a picture and describe a culture that was very much like the historical culture of the Vikings, who were lovers of war. For example: Women from slave villages are taken captive and raped (this was never shown explicitly) while their men are beheaded. However, I found this style of realism no different than Khal Drogo and Danny Targaryen in Game of Thrones when Khal is sacking settlements. It’s something that was a very realistic result of war, and to ignore it would have been unrealistic. I don’t like when people insist on removing the bad parts of history to make things more socially acceptable just because reading about them makes them uncomfortable. It happened, and for it to not happen in a time like this wouldn’t have made sense. That being said, it was NEVER glorified, which I appreciated. It was always clearly WRONG, and Lira and Reyker both acknowledge this as they describe what a beast Draki (the villain) is. There wasn’t that much of it anyway, only a couple of brief scenes.
I noticed that this book got mixed reviews. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am always drawn to historical fantasy, so no surprise. The second book, Kingdom of Ice and Bone will be out in September! It’s sure to be just as excellent, and I cannot wait to dive into my eARC copy of it.