Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mist (Midgard Series #1) by Susan Krinard

Mist is a Valkyrie, one of the last remnants of the Norse pantheon left on Midgard, following her sacred duty to keep the Treasures safe that Odin entrusted to her, and her sister’s, care.

But many centuries have passed and she has lost a lot of faith in this role – she is slowly adopting a normal life in San Francisco with the Norse firmly in her past. Until she runs into a Jotun who tries to kill her and an Alfar who has some ominous news – the 8 other Realms are gone, but Ragnarok has not yet been fought. The other gods are still out there, seeking passage to Midgard to begin the fight

And Loki is already on Midgard, already preparing to win and unleash his own brand of chaos on the world. It’s down to Mist to stop him, especially when he steals Odin’s spear, Gungnir, her charge to defend.

I love Norse mythology. Actually, I love mythology in general and are a definite mythology junkie. This is the kind of book that can be guaranteed to be like catnip for me – I’m reeled straight in to any world that incorporates all the details – the more the author has dug and the more obscure elements they have included, the more geeky glee I enjoy.

So here we had a full selection of the Norse on display, a delving into their treasures, and expansion and mention of so much of the nitty gritty of Norse mythology – it’s the kind of thing I love, it’s the kind of thing I can guarantee will hold me interested because of my geeky obsession because there is simply so much of the Norse mythology folded into this world setting. It made for a fascinating world with a lot of strong characters because of the amount there, the fullness of the background and integration and the incredible knowledge the author has and has included

However, pushing through my own enjoyment, I have to say that if you’re not a major mythology geek it’s going to be too much. There are too many unnecessary references, not all of them very well explained if you don’t’ have a good grounding in Norse mythology already. There’s a lot of Norse words, Norse references, Norse exclamations – I don’t know if it could be confusing, but it could slow the book. Certainly a lot of them are not necessary to the story. I don’t want to criticise this because of my own geeky love of it, but objectively I think it’s the mythological equivalent of those authors who include lots and lots of literary quotes to prove they have an English Lit degree.

Because pacing in this book isn’t brilliant to begin with. It’s not awful, I’ve certainly read a lot worse, but there’s a lot of time when Mist, Dainn or Loki are sat considering their next move and thinking about the situation they’re in. A lot of these are used as teasers for various big reveals with Loki or Dainn’s long, rambling thought processes tip-toeing all around the surprise until they get almost to it – then their thoughts get interrupted. It’s just more dragged out than it has to be and sometimes my mind did wander. I don’t think the fight scenes are written in a way that flows or gets the full sense of the action either – 5 minutes of frenzied activity can feel like 1 hour of 2 people doing stuff while everyone else watches.

But these are relatively minor complaints. They’re there, they’re problems but not big ones – the monologuing isn’t so long as to frustrate me, the fight scenes are still exciting enough to keep me engaged, follow the action and feel that the action is there, the world building is a little overdone but it’s all really fascinating. All of these things aren’t critical flaws in the book so much as a lack of polish over the already excellent bones of the story – which is a good story, with multiple actors all playing their own games, all fighting with conflicting motives, a lot of twists and a couple of red herrings to keep you guessing. It’s exactly what I’d expect from a series of gods plotting with and against each other – simple on the surface but with a large amount of background machinations that could easily trip you up. It’s deep, it’s nuanced, it has lots of angles and is generally interesting to read.

If I have a complaint about the plot it’s that Mist and Dainn both spend far too little time planning and far too much time charging in without a clue. There are far too many instances of them storming into situations where they know they are outmatched and hoping that their special shiny woo-woo will kick in sufficiently to save the. It’s a crying shame but this kind of foolishness is too often a deal breaker for me with books – I hate it when the protagonists, despite previously showing intelligence, suddenly lose their ever loving mind and just charge in to impossible situations and then succeed because they’re the protagonists and their plot armour won’t let them die. This didn’t break the book for me, but it hurt it a lot.

I think the star has to go to the characterisation of Mist more than anything (Dainn isn’t a bad character, but he is very much a tortured mystical love interest with woo-woo he hates, trying not to love the woman he clear does and regretting his bad naughty past – it’s not badly done but it’s not especially new or unique either).  Mist is much more complex. As a Valkyrie, she’s very sure of her place in the grand scheme of the Norse – or was anyway. She had a role, she wasn’t a power, she was something of a servant. She is extremely confident in the skills she knows she has – she is a warrior, she can wield weapons extremely well and is confident enough to go blade to blade with anyone. As a warrior she refuses to be babied or protected by Dainn or anyone else; she’s not helpless, she’s not a child and she will not be treated as such nor does she appreciate being dismissed or underestimate. At the same time she is very aware of her limitations and not willing to hit too far above her own belt. She is uncertain about a leadership role, even though she has naturally gravitated to one in the centuries since leaving Asgard, simply because that isn’t the role she’s always held as Odin’s servant. She is extremely uncomfortable and uncertain when pressed to master the powers of her new role and the revelations shown to her, especially those that go far beyond anything she has been before. There’s an excellent combination of fear of the new, fear of incredible power, resentment of the fundamental change of self as well as what this means when she has been kept in the dark for so long; all of that is countered by a strong practicality and insistence of getting things done.  Even beyond that she has both her long held duty set by Odin – her adherence to it because it is her role, while at the same time coming to doubt it and almost resent it as the centuries past and it seemed so pointless; yet at the same time hating that she may have failed at it.

There’s so much going into her character which I love to see come together.

I’m a little torn on Frejya. On the one side, I do appreciate that there is a strength and a power to her that goes beyond Mist’s combat abilities. Her power, as a goddess of love, is based on being irresistible and sensual, a power even Loki cannot resist and duly fears because of it. It is held up as a power every bit as fearsome if not more so than swordsmanship and balances well against Mist’s overt magic and combat ability. But it also means of the 2 great actors, Frejya’s Ace is “look at me and how hot I am” which is pretty reductive for a goddess. Part of my irritation stems from a mythology geekiness that objects to Frejya, goddess of beauty, sexuality, war, death, magic, prosperity and a few other things being confined to a Norse Aphrodite; her beauty and sexuality become the main, if not totality of her role. Even the book mentions that half the dead warriors chosen by the Valkyries go to Frejya’s hall, not Odin’s – she doesn’t get a pick of the best heroes of the world because she’s beautiful and sexy.

We had 2 POC which isn’t a lot for San Francisco even if the main focus were on various mythological beings. One is an Asian lawyer – who randomly seems to know martial arts just because (and, really, that's just depressingly pathetic) and the other is a Latina homeless teenager who also has magic as a curandera (brown person brings the woo-woo guys!). Neither are prominent in the story – in fact, along with Ryan, I’m not entirely sure why they’re there at all at the moment, they feel like a clumsy addition that will probably have future purpose but is still tacked on at the moment. Their lack of real role coupled with a few strong stereotypical traits – along with possibly-implied-gay-teen-Ryan (hustler and possible unrequited love for Dainn) makes them an awkward box of dubious, heavily stereotyped inclusion being thrust into the story.

Which brings me to GBLT characters – we have the implied Ryan and we have… Loki. In mythology Loki sleeps with anyone and everything up to and including the stallion Svadilfari. That alone doesn’t make him a good representation for GBLT characters. But in this book he has sex with one man – as a woman then changing his shape to a man to use as blackmail against his sex partner. And he lusts after and sexually molests Dainn, who he previously had sex with while shapeshifted to look like Frejya. There’s a whole lot of sexual predation going on here and it’s all directed at other men and leaves a general bad taste in my mouth. There is a prevalent meme of gay men as sex predators - especially aimed at straight men, and this book played on it to an extent that is grossly homophobic

In the end, I think we have an extremely good book here, with some fascinating characters, a huge amount of excellent mythology, a well produced world and a good, strong story with a lot of depth and potential to it. I picked up the book and was transported by it to a happy world of Norse wonders that was a joy to read. But it does lack polish, it could use just a little tightening and a little cutting would really elevate it. I think the next book has huge potential with an excellent set up, some strong characters laid out and the sides well represented and drawn – but also has some things it needs to address and develop to redeem some of the issues in this one. There is a good chance, though, that a reader now as grounded in Norse Mythology is going to dislike this book a lot more than I did and may even be lost in it; take the Fang rating with that in mind. If you're not into the Norse to a large degree, you may want to knock off another 0.5 fangs

A copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review