Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Twist of Wyrd (The Ways of Wyrd) by PJ Friel

Odin has shut the doors between Midgard and the other realms. That means those beings from other realms - the Jotun, the Ljosafr, the svartalf, the elementals, are all stranded on Midgard with no way home. And they have been for some time. They’ve slowly integrated themselves into humanity

And Brynn, with her own Outlander heritage, is doing her best to do just that and have as little do with the Outlanders as she can possibly manage; even if it means hiding from the night and the darkness.

But a murder investigation drags her out of that safe light and into the middle of Outlander politics. In particular into the path of Trygg, Berserker servant of Odin who isn’t a fan of the Allfather, security for a Jotun mob-boss. And he knows who she is...

Norse mythology!

I am always here for Norse mythology. Always. And this has so many fascinating ideas based on that mythology - especially since it doesn’t focus exclusively on the gods. I’ve read a fair few books based on Norse Mythology and it’s basically “Norse gods try to stop Loki ruining everything”. Don’t get me wrong, I love a god Norse-gods-trying-to-stop-Loki-AGAIN story, I really do - but to have a story that actually looks at the elves and the Jotun and the Svartalf; all the different races of the nine realms as things other than enemies to Odin et al is interesting and different

So seeing Odin be some distant force with his own agenda is new. Seeing the story from the views of the Jotun with their own political divisions and conflicts, the Swartalf, the Ljorsalf, all with their own abilities and agendas working on Earth, unable to get home so handling things without Odin and Thor dishing out orders or Loki just bringing randomness. It makes for a really fascinating book that I’m really dying to learn more about

And this is well done as well - because I am tempted, I am teased with knowledge and hints of so much more but the author has been excellently balanced in how it was delivered. There were no infodumps, there was a lot of knowledge conveyed

I do think that the “berserkers” would have been better as Einherjar, but that’s just me

I also really like the plot because it works as an investigation - there’s lots of threads of different issues around Brynn and Trygg, not least of which because of the mob boss Trygg works for and Brynn’s own suspicions. But also because it’s handled very well in terms of frustration and scrabbling for leads and dead ends and red herrings that really makes for a very real investigation. At least it would if the investigation didn’t fall to the ROMANCE.

The issue is, as I often find, the romance. Not because there is a romance, but because the romance appears instantly and then sprints off in fast forward in a way that really undermines a lot of the more powerful plot elements.

Like one of the core elements of Bryn’s character is how traumatised she is. She’s terrified of being out after dark, she studies how to defend herself, she assesses every where she visits for safe places, she has weapons everywhere. This underlying terror, especially of Outlanders, defines her. Yet 10 minutes in Trygg’s company and her fears vapourise and she feels “safe” around him. Really? This does so much to

Not as extreme, but we also have Trygg’s bizarrely rapid switch of loyalties to Bryn rather than Malachi, a man he believes he owes so much to. Or how he goes from pretty much loathing the berserkers as Odin’s followers to pretty much settling in with them. Or the fact both of them feel like they’re betraying the other when they’re suspicious

This isn’t just your standard “zomg he is the hottest thing who ever breathed let me derail the story for 10 minutes to talk about that”, insta-romance nuisance (though there is more than enough of that); it actively undermines some core elements of the characters. Throw in a lot of violent jealousy from Trygg (you barely know the woman! You don’t get to fantasise about killing other guys she’s near). There’s also an unpleasant subtheme where Brynn snarls at Trygg for being overly controlling - doing things like guiding her with his hand or lots of touch-based dominance games or sheltering her - and rather than run with it, we turn it into something that BRYN’S wrong about. Because he makes her feel safe. Rather than acknowledging she actually has a point about not wanting a man to guide her round like a puppet.

I’m not saying the romance itself is bad, if overly sex based and full of some very bad tropes, it’s that the speed of it undermines a lot of the characters’ history and development which in turn hurts the overall plot. I think, in some ways, going for a slow burn romance to be followed in later books would create something more real and give Brynn more chance to work through her fears - and more room to explore the complicated feelings she has towards, say, her adoptive parents and her best friend. We don’t have space for that, because we have The Romance

We do have some gay men - or had. They’re murdered. All of them. Every last one. And most of them start the book that we so we don’t exactly have gay male characters, we have gay male corpses. Oh and when the grieving father of one of those murdered gay men is an arsehole, our dear hero Trygg thinks it’s super awesome to taunt him about having a dead gay son. Classy.

We do have one living bartender, he appears, makes quips and announces he’s an awesome Gay Best Friend. This is like the sum total of his existence.

Dezi, Bryn’s best friend, is a decent character. She’s friendly, smart, capable, independent and, unlike so many best friends, has a lovelife, career and activities beyond the protagonist (though this rather collapses at the end) and Bryn seems genuinely caring about her and is willing to risk and sacrifice for her. We also have Bryn’s adoptive parents who are Asian and, for the time we see them, relatively unproblematic (these Asian Norse elves have katanas because… it’s a rule). My main issue with all three of these characters relates to the above - the ROMANCE. Because Dezi and Brynn’s mother and father all have fascinating histories, potential conflicts and complicated relationships with Brynn could all have been so much more… but we have THE ROMANCE

There’s so much about this book that is excellent which is why I am frustrated by the elements of it that fall so badly short: the treatment of the gay male characters and the general feeling that the whole plot line has been badly mugged by a rushed romance narrative.