I received a finished copy from the publisher, Rebellion Publishing/Solaris. – Thank you again to Hanna for putting me on the list!
I am not being paid or otherwise compensated to review this book, I applied for an ARC because I want to share more books about (old) Norse culture with my followers.
All the opinions in this review are entirely my own.
☾ about the book
Title: Northern Wrath
Author: Thilde Kold Holdt
Series: The Hanged God Trilogy
Format: paperback, novel
Trigger Warning: blood, gore, human sacrifices, death of multiple characters, manslaughter, war, religious themes (namely conversion to Christianity)
☾ the synopsis
A dead man, walking between the worlds, foresees the end of the gods.
A survivor searching for a weapon releases a demon from fiery Muspelheim.
A village is slaughtered by Christians, and revenge must be taken.
The bonds between the gods and Midgard are weakening. It is up to Hilda, Ragnar, their tribesmen Einer and Finn, the chief’s wife Siv and Tyra, her adopted daughter, to fight to save the old ways from dying out, and to save their gods in the process.
☾ the characters
Hilda is the skald’s daughter. She loses her father at the beginning of the book, and shortly after discovers a group of “southerners” (I assume people from Spain) who are planning to attack Ash-Hill and force the people living there to convert to Christianity.
Hilda manages to capture a southerner and Ash-Hill prepares for battle. During the battle, Hilda fights and later runs from her home. She meets her Fylgja, a white snow fox, and soon discovers that the gods, and the runes she can hear in the winds have a task for her.
She goes to a dwarf’s forge to get an axe that is supposed to be given to the gods, but she accidentally unleashes a demon from Muspelheim that blinds her and gives her Muspelsight.
Later, blind Hilda returns to the survivors from Ash-Hill and enters battle as a shieldmaiden at their side.
Ragnar, the skald, dies and discovers that instead of being sent to Helheim for his afterlive, he is still a storyteller. Equipped with a runemistresse’s staff, he travels through the world of his gods and tries to warn them of the Ragnarok.
Einar is the chieftain’s son. And he is a berserker – a warrior who can enter a state of frenzy which stops them from feeling pain or noticing when you are injured.
But he keeps this a secret.
Einar’s story begins at the beginning of the book where his identity as a berserker is revealed, and then he only returns after the vikings return to Ash-Hill from their raids.
He, during the story, and even when she reappears, mourns the loss of his love, Hilda.
Siv and Tyra are two of the few survivors from the battle of Ash-Hill, and they go on their way to a King of the Danelands.
On the way there, Siv reveals to Tyra that she is a Jötunn. She explains to Tyra that the runes are fading – and once they do, it would be the end of the nine worlds.
☾ the magic system
I wouldn’t exactly go as far as saying that there is a fully fleshed out magic system in Northern Wrath – one like you might see in other fantasy books – but there are certain magic elements in the book that are linked to Norse Mythology.
The runes, that were largely used as an alphabet, also had other meanings. These meanings made it possible for runes to be combined into a bindrune, and also, certain runes were linked to a god.
In the book, Hilda and the jötnar use runes to wield magic, and there is a character named the runemistress (which is also, later, a name that’s used to refer to Hilda) who reads runestones (runecasting sounds a little bit like reading tarot cards, but I still haven’t figured out how to do it so I would do a bad job at explaining what it is, haha).
So while there are no set rules to the magic in Northern Wrath, the runes are definitely a magic element.
☾ the world building
The world building is what I would describe as lush. I know that word is usually used to describe worlds in books, but I seldom disagree.
However, the worldbuilding in Northern Wrath is accurate. It made me feel like I was coming home again.
The tribe of Ash-Hill, and Ash-Hill itself are definitely culturally accurate (which is a thing that tends to be a hit and miss with authors who try their hand at writing about Norse culture).
The worldbuilding has space for all the customs and the culture that people seem to forget Norsemen had, and it distinguishes between the vikings (the warriors who would go on raids in the summer) and the farmers, who usually stayed and took care of their settlement.
People, in my experience, often reduce Norse culture to raiding Vikings which puts the culture as a whole into a very bad light.
I also really loved how Siv (or Glumbruck, as is her Jötunn name), Buntrugg (her brother) and Ragnar’s experience of the afterlive are used to introduce mythological aspects and characters into the storyline.
☾ what i liked
I loved everything about this book, because I’ve finally found a book with a story that isn’t just a retelling. It’s actually a story about Norsemen and how they lived and what they believed in.
And I also liked how one of the underlying themes of the book is the conversation to Christianity.
As a pagan, this was very refreshing for me to read because the Christians – the southerners and Harald, the King of the Danelands – were the antagonists for once.
Hilda was my favorite character in the book, and I enjoyed that she, as the reluctant hero, was being put in the main focus. I loved seeing her character turn from a sheltered girl who just wants to fight into a true warrior who has her own opinions and goes her own way.
☾ what i disliked
I am just going to put this out here: I could have done without Ragnar’s POV.
I understand that there must be a certain purpose to his character and his POV for the story line that only began to unravel in Northern Wrath, but his chapters were short, and though they gave an interesting insight into Norse mythology, they didn’t tell me anything (about the story line or mythology) that I didn’t already know so I felt like they were a little bit distracting.
Another point that might seem like nitpicking is the fact that I would have liked to see a glossary – I know not everyone who is going to pick this book up is going to know a lot about the mythology, culture and customs, and I personally find that interrupting yourself to google a certain thing ruins your reading flow.
So yeah, a glossary would have been nice.
☾ would i recommend this book
I think more people need to familiarize themselves with this culture because I am sick of being seen as a savage for not adhering to one of the five world-religions anymore.
People seem to, as I already said, have a very specific picture of Norsemen, which I find is often very wrong and quite toxic to people like me, who are judged based on stereotypes and wrong information.
I am not going to deny that Norse culture is bloody, and not as peaceful as I sometimes wish it was, but Norsemen had culture that was slowly erased by another culture taking over, and now the only reason people care for Norse mythology is because Marvel turned one of our gods into a superhero (yes, I think Marvel’s Thor is a very very toxic representation because it’s so inaccurate).
I know this book is being grouped together with retellings of Norse Mythology like “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman and “The Gospel of Loki” by Joanne M. Harris – so if you enjoyed either or both of these books, you will probably enjoy Northern Wrath as well – bu I find that they aren’t really comparable because this book isn’t a retelling.
It’s its own bloody story.
However, I think it would be wise to, in case you are looking to read this book as someone who is new to Norse Mythology, familiarize yourself with the culture and the mythology a little bit before you pick this up (you could pick up the above mentioned books to do so).