[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!