by Erin Riley
5 out of 5
Date Published: April 2, 2015
Obsession. Treachery. Revenge. Redemption. Certain themes resonate across the centuries.
Selia is a girl on the verge of womanhood, frustrated by the confines of her gender and resentful of the freedom her brother boasts of. Intelligent and resourceful in a time when neither is valued in a female, she longs for an escape from her sheltered existence. Fascinated by the tales of Viking raids told by her maidservant, her hunger for independence is fed through the stories of heathen ferocity she hears at the woman’s knee.
A decision to sneak to the city’s harbor to view the Viking longships leads to an encounter with Alrik Ragnarson, a charismatic Viking warlord whose outward beauty masks a dark and tortured mind. With the knowledge that her father is about to announce her betrothal to a man she doesn’t love, Selia marries Alrik and within a day is on the longship bound for Norway and a new life.
While Selia’s relationship with her new husband grows, her friendship with his brother Ulfrik grows as well. And as Alrik’s character flaws come to light and tension mounts between the two brothers, Selia begins to have misgivings about her hasty marriage . . . especially when a secret from the past is revealed, one that threatens to destroy them all.
Selia, a young Irishwoman, whose fear of the foreign Finngalls is only matched by her curiosity of them. Unfortunately she catches the attention of Alrik "Blood-Axe" Ragnarson, who takes her by force for a new life in Norway.
I really enjoyed this book. The last time I enjoyed this type of book, was when I first read The White Mare ten years ago when I was living in Ireland.
Riley has written a book that is perfectly balanced between the brutal reality of the time, and Selia's story. You can tell that the author has done her research on the era and locations; yet manages to write in a smooth and entertaining style that never feels like it's giving a lecture.
The characters all have depth and their own histories and secrets. I loved how it slowly delivered the answers to all the questions. Then somehow Riley manages to turn the plot on it's head and you realise that you were asking the wrong questions!
Selia starts off as a very naive character. She has been very sheltered all her life by her father Niall. His beautiful daughter has been kept away from the advances of men, and is not allowed to travel to Dubhlinn, or even the local market alone, for fear of what might happen. So it is no surprise that Selia has a rather distorted, romanticised first opinion of the handsome Alrik. He is so different to the boys from her village. She sees him as her escape from a marriage to an elderly suitor; and an answer to the sudden desire she feels.
It is interesting to watch how she evolves through the book, into someone who is initially distracted by the new world of intimacy that she has been awoken to, and finally into someone that is ready to hold her own.
Alrik is a bastard. He is a viking, unflinching in violence. He often threatens his new wife with physical abuse, punishment for not obeying him, or for the imagined flirtations with other men. His bouts of rage make his family and men tip-toe around him, careful not to set him off. And when he does fall off the edge of sanity, they do their best to avoid him and make excuses for their leader.
The story reveals his darknesses, every time his character seems to be reaching redemption for the previous crime.
I never felt that he was romanticised, he is written in a very unforgiving light, which is so refreshing that it doesn't dissolve into a fluffy romance.
I'm looking forward to the rest of the series, as it teases at the end of the real truth of Selia's life.
Erin S. Riley has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in clinical counseling. She is also a board certified lactation consultant and has had extensive training in maternal-child health. Since Erin was a child, she has been fascinated with human nature and what motivates behavior. She enjoys writing stories that reflect real life: Erin's books feature complicated, imperfect characters who love deeply, make reckless decisions, and try again until they get it right.
A lifelong lover of books, Erin taught herself to read at the age of four and hasn’t been without a book since. She is an equal-opportunity reader of fiction and non-fiction, and her shelves are filled with books on psychology, archaeology, anthropology, and general history. The social history of women and their place in society across the ages is a favorite reading topic of Erin’s.
Erin is drawn to any creative pursuit, from making hand-stitched quilts to producing mini-movies for family and friends from home videos. But writing has always been her passion. When Erin isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with her two wonderful children, reading anything she can get her hands on, watching football, and renovating her house with her husband of 17 years who just happens to look like a Viking!
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