Book Review: “The Saga of Edda-Earth” By Deborah Davitt, parts 1 and 2

June 17, 2015 | Posted in Alternate History, Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, Fiction | By

The Valkyrie (The Saga of Edda-Earth Book 1)The Valkyrie by Deborah L. Davitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

The Goddess Denied (The Saga of Edda-Earth Book II)The Goddess Denied by Deborah L. Davitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

[Note: This review covers the first two books of the series – the stories flow together so well, and my comments for each are essentially the same, so it didn’t make sense to make two separate reviews. There are no spoilers for either book in this review.]

 

Let me get straight to the point – the first two volumes of “The Saga of Edda-Earth” contain some of the best epic fantasy fiction – Norse based or otherwise – I’ve read since Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon,” a book that has been at the top of my favorites list for many years. (At the time of this review, the remainder of the series has not yet been released.)

Like “Mists,” the first two books of “Edda-Earth” dive deeply into its world’s political and religious landscape during a time of change. Edda-Earth is an alternate reality in which Rome never fell. Most of the world is under Rome’s banner, though the amount of control Rome exerts over the different nations varies. Some retain almost full autonomy, while others are almost fully controlled by Rome.  Each nation, however, maintains its own culture, though there are prohibitions on human sacrifice and proselytizing.

The story takes place in times roughly analogous to our own, in which technology and magic exist side-by-side. Author Deborah Davitt has constructed an extensive and detailed alternate world and history for the Saga. The technology used in most of the Empire is fairly similar to our own, though there doesn’t seem to be much of an emphasis on computers and some of the firearms are a bit more primitive. As for magic, there are three distinct schools – ley magic, powered by quantum strings; sorcery, which makes use of physics and the mage’s will; and spirit summoning – as well as people who have inherent abilities from the divine spark of being godborn or god-touched, or who have been granted certain abilities through the use of tools like magical tattoos. I really like the way Davitt has tied science and magic together, while still allowing for some magic to be of a more wonderous nature. 

Since nations retain their indigenous culture and beliefs, religion in Edda-Earth is quite diverse. The strength of any given pantheon derives largely from how many followers it has, and people who have chosen a faith – whether it was a deliberate decision or because they simply followed the faith of their culture – they essentially fade from the awareness of all other gods. Some gods have little to no direct interaction with their followers, relying on faith alone, while others choose to make their presence more tangible.

As the story opens, Propraetor Livorus – a man generally considered to be the right hand of Cesar and who is often sent to deal with delicate diplomatic situations – is being sent to a small nation in the middle of what we know as the U.S., in response to the apparent kidnapping of a young girl who they believe is to be used as a human sacrifice. Accompanying Livorus on the mission are his lictors – kind of a combination body-guard and advisory council. Foremost among his lictors is Sigrun Caesia, a godborn granddaughter of the Norse god Tyr, and the Valkyrie of the first book’s title. Adam ben Maor, who is frequently the lictors commanding officer, is a Judean warrior who is quite skilled in the use of weapons. Kanmi Eshmunazar is a ascerbic but brilliant Carthaginian sorcerer, and Trennus Matrugena, is a ley-mage and spirit summoner from Gaul whose size and prowess often belie his gentle spirit. There are others who come and go or work alongside the lictors, but these are our main heroes.

The story follows them as they discover rumors that the practice of human sacrifice is being restarted in other areas as well, and as they explore the deeper mysteries of what is behind this change and the impact it’s having on the world. Add in a couple of natural disasters and some long-simmering tension threatening to become open war, and Livorus’ crew has their hands full. As with any story, there are a few plot points that will feel a bit familiar or even predictable, but I found myself far more often surprised or shocked by the turn of events and the changes in the characters that resulted.

Part of what makes this series so incredible is the extensive level of character development that Davitt provides. Unlike many epic tales – where we follow the characters primarily for the duration of the perilous journey they must undertake to save the world – here we stay with the characters for an extended number of years and see them not only as they handle their various missions, but also during the times when they are able to remain home. We get to know them as they deal with the full gamut of family issues, from difficult relatives, to falling in love and building their own families, and learn who they are when they have the chance to just be themselves. Rather than slowing down the pacing, however, this additional perspective gives “Edda-Earth” an added richness and the deeper understanding of the characters provides a boost to the tension when they are in danger.

Both “The Valkyrie” and “The Goddess Denied” are long books – each coming in at around 600  pages, so they do require a bit of an investment of your time, but I certainly found it to be well worth it, and I’m excited to see what Davitt has in store for our heroes next!

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Book Review: “The Darkling Tide” by Travis Simmons

April 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based | By

The Darkling TideThe Darkling Tide by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This reviews contains spoilers for the first book in the series, “A Plague of Darkness.” 

In “The Darkling Tide,” the 2nd book in Travis Simmons’ “Harbingers of Light” series, we rejoin Abigail, Leona, Rorick and Daphne on The Singer’s Trail as they travel through the Fey Forest in search of the elf city and the community of Harbingers that they hope will help Abigail learn how to control the Wyrd powers that accompany the plague. Celeste, the Light elf who had been guiding them has been recalled to the elf city. With Celeste gone and the others new to this world, Daphne is their only guide. The further they travel, however, the harder it gets to resist the pull of the darklings along the sides of the warded trail.

Simmons continues to develop the characters, with each of them facing difficulties that challenge them in unique ways and force them to make choices for which they may not truly be ready. And while Abigail is undergoing a transformative change due to the plague she carries, in many ways, it is little Leona who faces the greatest hurdles. In the first book, she had to sacrifice her beloved doll, Skuld – who frequently spoke to her and gave her guidance –  in order to save her sister and their friends – killing the attacker in the process.  Now we start to see how the experience is weighing on her.

The story had a lot of action to it and moves at a nice, steady pace. We learn more about Agaranth, get a chance to see the elf city, catch a glimpse into the politics between the dark and light elves and meet a few new characters, including Daniken a dark elf who causes trouble between Abagail, Rorick and Leona.

The middle book in a trilogy is usually the trickiest. We’ve already been introduced to the main characters and had the world established in the first volume, and the its ending is really only a resting point, since the third book contains the climax and denouement. As a result, middle books can sometimes feel flat.  Simmons has managed to avoid that here. The characters experience a number of gains and setbacks, while the tension slowly builds to lead us into the final episode. I’m really curious to see how it all turns out!

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Book Review: “A Plague of Darkness” by Travis Simmons

April 1, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based | By

A Plague of ShadowsA Plague of Shadows by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Travis Simmons has put together nifty combination of Norse mythology and his own imaginative world-building, creating a unique universe in which to spin tales with familiar touchstones and wholly new ideas. He has taken element of the Noise cosmos and given them original names, which I found was a nice way of signalling that while this universe may be inspired by the Eddas, Epics and Sagas, it was not a retelling of any of the older stories.

“A Plague of Shadows” is the first book in the “Harbinger of Light” trilogy, in which we meet Abigail – a young woman who has found herself having to step into a more adult role of caring for the home and honey farm after her father is injured in an accident – along with her younger sister, Leona, and their neighbour Rorick. They live on the world of “O” which has been under attack from darklings – shadowy creatures capable of performing evil magic and tend to leave death wherever they’ve been. Touching or otherwise coming in contact with a darkling puts a person at a high risk of being infected with the darkling’s shadow and become a darkling themselves.

When Abigail shows symptoms of the plague, her father decides it’s best to send her to Agaranth, the world he originally came from and where his brother and sister still live. That world is also beset by darklings, but unlike O – where the Light Guard “cleanses” anyone who comes down with the plague and punishes people for even talking about the magical or mystical – people on Agaranth have learned to control the plague and even make use of the magic abilities it brings. Because Leona it’s showing signs of becoming a budding seeress, which is, of course, heavily frowned upon by the Guard, and Rorick’s parents are dead, Abagail’s father sends them with her on the journey.

Of course, things don’t go quite as planned, and that’s where the meat of the story kicks in. I was actually surprised how fast the book went. At one point, I’d thought I was no more than maybe a third of the way through, only to find is been reading longer than I’d thought and was nearly 3/4ths done. It’s a truly engrossing story.

The scene where Abigail and friends travel from O to Agaranth is remarkable in describing the World Tree and the rainbow bridge connecting to each of the nine worlds and a heavenly-like plane (with hints of something much darker below.) A guide they meet on the bridge tells them (and us) about this universe and some of what may lie ahead, but because the information is presented while the characters are also exploring this core of the cosmos, it flows more naturally than such expository passages sometimes can.

I have to admit part of the fun for me was in recognizing where’s he’s included Norse elements in somewhat different guises and under somewhat different names and how the old and new mesh together – but he’s done this smartly so that even if you’ve never heard of the Norse, you can still enjoy this tale.

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