BREATHE FIRE— I’ve always had an infatuation with Norse mythology and the Vikings, and I’ve always wondered why no one had written about them through the lens of a YA novel. When I first heard about Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young, I was like “FINALLY. Someone is finally doing it!” Knowing what I do about reading a new author for the first time, I tried not to get my hopes up too high because I’ve been let down in the past. But Young really delivered with her tale, and I’m so pleased to tell you guys that this book has become near and dear to me. It definitely deserves 5/5 stars and I likely won’t ever stop recommending it. So, let me tell you a little about it!
“I stood at the entrance of the ritual house in the falling snow, holding basket piled high with yarrow. The huge archway was a detailed carving of the mountain, the trees etched into it in slanted patterns and the face of Thora, mouth full of fire.”
Sky in the Deep follows seventeen year old Eelyn, a viking warrior from the Aska tribe set on the coast of the snowy Fjord, who lives by the code “vegr yfir fjor” or “honor above life.” Her clansmen have an ancient rivalry with the Riki clan, who worship the goddess Thora above the Aska god Sigr. She lives to fight, and fights to survive. That is the ways of her people, and that is all she knows. Five years after the death of her beloved brother Iri, a brother who she’d seen fall in battle, she is revisited by his ghost fighting alongside their rival clan. But when she notices how corporal he appears, and how he has seemingly aged with time, she cannot fathom the truth. It is no longer a possibility that Iri is an apparition sent by her god—and her heart refuses to accept the harrowing truth of his deception.
Every five years, the Riki and the Aska converge in the mountains or alongside the coast to fight to the death. It is the way of their worlds, and a tradition that had been kept since the age of their gods. But when Eelyn tries to find her brother amongst broken bodies and swinging axes, she is nearly killed by Fiske—Riki’s new, adoptive brother. Iri pulls them apart before they tear murder one another, but Eelyn is then taken prisoner and sworn to secrecy about her brother’s lineage.
Eelyn must face her brother’s betrayal and live amongst his people, the Riki, and work as their servant if she hopes to survive the winter to then venture back home to her father. When the Riki village is suddenly raided, she must put her life in the hands of the man who nearly took it—Fiske. Her brother’s friend, and her captor, try to figure out how to unite the clans to defeat a deadlier enemy. But some rivalries run too deep, with too much blood spilled, and old rivals will never be truly at rest until their god’s thirst for blood and war is satisfied.
The setting takes place in a vague, Nordic country where one scene goes from thickly iced over lakes to snow-capped mountains where trees tower over the nestled villages. Young’s descriptions of the meeting halls and forests are gorgeous. I loved her writing style, because it easily hooked me from the first page and didn’t leave room for errors. In other words, anything I guessed that would occur actually didn’t occur, even with my close reading. It was a well thought out and characterized story, especially in regards to character development. A major theme throughout was the idea of giving in and changing. When to change, whether or not to change, and who to change for—which ultimately leads to the protagonist’s self-discovery and newfound outlook on life. The best part about this book is definitely following along as Eelyn struggles to find herself in two different worlds. Fiske fights the same inner battle, as does Iri, and all three of them go through this change differently and with contrasting perspectives. It was all very intriguing and stimulating to read.
I also really enjoyed how Young didn’t focus heavily on romance in this story. While there is romance, it isn’t a main aspect to the plot. There are no affairs, love triangles, or unrequited lover tropes involved whatsoever—none of these warriors have time for that. SKY is a story about self identity and coming of age, and Eelyn was a wonderful protagonist whose main concerns rested with her father, her tribe, and understanding how two groups of people can come to live in peace.
Overall, this was an amazing book. I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of the T.V. series Vikings (on History), or if you haven’t seen that show but loved the book…watch it!! I’m biased because Vikings is my favorite television series, and some of the characters in the book reminded me of characters from the show. Also, the soundtrack to the show is a wonderful companion if you want to listen to music while reading.
I have to give a massive thank you to St. Martin’s Press for granting me an early copy of this book and setting up a Q&A with the author, Adrienne Young! Below are the questions Young responded to for the Sky in the Deep Blog Tour.
- What inspired SKY IN THE DEEP? How did the idea and Eelyn come to you? DO you have any favorite Viking stories?
The sibling betrayal was definitely the first inspiration for this story. I was driving in the pouring rain on this country road and the first scene just hit me—Eelyn seeing her brother on the battlefield after thinking that he was dead for five years. I pulled over on the side of the road and scribbled a million notes on an old envelope. I was immediately hooked to the idea and I wanted to know what had happened. I started writing that first chapter and I just never stopped.
2. What type of research did you do for your character and world-building? What languages did you study to implement the languages of that the Aska and the Riki speak? What was the strangest thing you had to research for this book?
I did a ton of research for this story. I actually really love to research things so it was a lot of fun. A lot of it was stuff like clothing, landscape, weapons, food, etc. But I did a lot of research into Norse mythology as well to build a foundation for this world. The language used is Old Norse, but it’s a dead language so studying it was really difficult. There is a lot of controversy about it among scholars and there’s no real way to fully understand it, so I just did my best based on my own investigation. I’m definitely not an expert! The weirdest thing I had to research was how to tear out someone’s eyeball. Yuck.
3. What was your writing process like for SKY IN THE DEEP?
Complete and utter obsession. When I draft, I get really buried in the world and I don’t really come up for air until I get to the end. I write as much as I can and list my intake of other influencers that could mess with my mindset. I don’t watch TV or movies or listen o music thats not on my playlist, and I kind of don’t have a social life until it’s done.
4. What was your hardest scene to write? What was the easiest?
I really didn’t struggle to get this story on the page the way I have with other books, so I really don’t know what the hardest scene to write was. But the easiest was the first chapter. I wrote it so fast and it just clicked in so perfectly.
5. Which of your characters are you the most like? Who was your favorite to write?
Eelyn! We have so much in common and she really inspires me. But I think Halvard was the most fun to write. I really, really love him.
6. Do you have a soundtrack for SKY IN THE DEEP? Can you share a couple of songs? What would Eelyn’s favorite song be?
Yes! Music plays a HUGE role in my writing process and I have a playlist for every project. The ones I probably listen to the most while drafting SKY are To the Hills by Laurel, Bare by Wildes, and Rise Up— Reprise by Foxes. But a link to the whole playlist is on my site!
Listen to Young’s playlist here.
7. What books have inspired you to write? What books are you looking froward to reading this year?
The ones that inspired me to write are nothing like my books. One of the most influential ones for me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because the human element is so beautiful and the author explores so many things in that took that really took my breath away. I wanted to write stories that went deep like that, but I love fantasy so I try to write it within that realm.
8. Any advice on querying? Or writing advice for aspiring writers?
Querying—do not just sign with any agent who will take you. Make a dream agent list of qualified agents who have good reputations and make consistent sales. Query them. If they don’t bite, then write another book that they might want. Believe me when I say it is worth waiting or the right agent!
9. Any details about the company novel?
I cant say anything about the companion novel yet! But I’m hoping that we can start talking about it soon because I am really excited about it!
And because I loved this book so much…I made my very own playlist for it! You can follow THIS link to listen on SoundCloud. Most songs are by Wardruna, who I’ll be seeing this spring in concert (aahhh)!
Runaljod // Wardruna
Pertho // Wardruna
Snake Pit Poetry // Einar Selvik
Sacrifice for the Crops // Trevor Moris
Skaldens Song Til Tore Hund // Ivar Bjørnson
Heimta Thurs // Warduna
Resan // Forndom
Burizas // Draugurinn
Dance with the Trees // Adrian Von Zieglers
Viking Boaters Dancing in Scotland // Adrei Krylov
*This review does contain spoilers. Please do not read it if you haven’t already read Wintersong or its sequel, Shadowsong. This is also an ARC review—and material in the finished copy is subject to change.
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones was one of my top three favorite books last year. I was highly anticipating the sequel because of the way in which the first book left us hanging, wondering if Liesl and her Goblin King would ever reunite. In Jones’ lush, austere world of eighteenth-century Bavaria, you find yourself emerged in a story that feels more imbued in folklore than the average genre of fiction. And I LOVE that. The whole time I read Shadowsong I felt the same ambiance as I did in the first novel, even though the first one mostly takes place under the earth and this one traverses between Vienna and our protagonist’s village.
Jones has such a beautiful writing style that brings forth emotions of great heartache and longing for something you might have never experienced, but have heard stories enough that you could almost imagine such an agony. My love for the prose aside, the pace of this story does start out a bit slow.
Unfortunately, I felt that the story never really picked up until the halfway mark or even slightly after that. Perhaps this is because I was anticipating interactions between Liesl and the Goblin King, not Liesl and her siblings. While I enjoyed reading more about Käthe and Josef, I felt like they took up the story and any traces of the main characters from book one were replaced by their tales. This wouldn’t be so bad! If the last book didn’t end with such a cliffhanger about said two characters.
There was definitely a sense of peace and finality at the end of the book, but I was still left longing for more romance between Liesl and Der Erlkönig. I was hoping for a lot more interaction between them. The last moments they share on page made me tear up, but I still wish there were more scenes between the two in this sequel. After all, this is promoted as a YA Romance and I felt the romance aspect severely lacking because there was little to no interaction between the main pairing—just a lot of pining and longing (which is only well-used subtly and in the beginning of a story).
Der Erlkönig didn’t even come across as the same character we fell in love with in Wintersong. He was basically absent most of the book, and although there is a plot-related reasoning for this bizarre behavior, it wasn’t developed enough to make sense until the final pages where the reader is left feeling a bit cheated.
I did, however, particularly enjoy the mention of the Wild Hunt. That has always been a favorite tale of mine, and to have the Goblin King be its head leader me see him as a more antagonistic character, even if he had little control over the matter. It made the story darker than I had thought it could be—which was great.
“Looming in the shadows was a figure, skin night-black and eyes moon pale. Fingers broken and gnarled like desiccated vines curled around the neck of a violin, the resin cracked and pulled with age. A crown of horns grew from a nest of cobwebs and thistledown, but the face that stared back at me was human. Familiar.”
Ultimately this book just didn’t sit well with me. The first novel is fantastic, but I feel as though this one was similar to when you’re trying to finish an essay and give up on the conclusion so you just reiterate the first few sentences. I’m really upset by this, but that’s truly how I feel.
My Rating: 3/5
Books Read in Winter 2017
- Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm
- Veins of Magic (#2) by Emma Hamm [series rating 4/5]
- Circe by Madeline Miller [4/5]
- Flux by Orion Vanessa [3/5]
- The Sun & her Flowers by Rupi Kaur [5/5]
- Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett [4/5]
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott [3/5]
- Cry of the Firebird by Amy Kuivalainen
- Ashes of the Firebird (#2) by Amy Kuivalainen
- Rise of the Firebird (#3) by Amy Kuivalainen [series rating 3.5/5]
- Shadowsong (#2) by S. Jae-Jones [3.5/5]
- The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser [5/5]
- Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen [3/5]
- The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip [5/5]
- A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson [4/5]
—All in total, I’d say winter 2017 was a decent reading season. I tried to read some books I’ve never heard of before I stumbled upon them, and even a few sequels here and there. The Faerie Queen was thrust upon me in my Renaissance Literature class, but I loved it enough (and the book is large enough) to warrant a place on this list! Flux and The Sun & Her Flowers are both poetry, while Pond is an autobiography. The rest are fiction, and I believe out of all of them I enjoyed Circe the most, no matter the 4 star rating. I hope spring brings just as many positive reads as winter did! (You can find reviews for all of these books on the homepage.)
- It, (dir.) Andy Muschietti
- Mother! (dir.) Darren Aronofsky
- Captain Fantastic (dir.) Matt Ross
- The Lure (dir.) Agnieszka Smoczynska
- Lady Bird (dir.) Greta Gerwig
- Very Good Girls (dir.) Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal
- Call Me by Your Name (dir.) Luca Guadagnino
—I’ve been watching reruns of my favorite show, Vikings, for the most part of winter, but in the meantime these amazing movies found their ways into my heart…especially Captain Fantastic. Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name were amazing as well, and I cried during both. I’m going to see Black Panther this weekend and I have a feeling it’ll be another winter hit to add to the list! The Lure is a Polish rock-opera type film with mermaids who work in a strip club. Yeah, you just read that.
New Favorite Music
- gun shy / widowspeak
- portuguese knife fight / cage the elephant
- fountain of youth / local natives
- sure as spring / la luz
- in the aeroplane over the sea / neutral milk hotel
- i’m writing a novel / father john misty
- the spell / naomi punk
- deer creek canyon / sera cahoone
- always forever / cults
- so says i / the shins
- all apologies / nirvana
- ancient names (part 1) / lord huron
- sister / the black keys
- miracle mile / cold war kids
- congratulations / MGMT
- tangible intangible / fly golden eagle
- happiest man on earth / broken back
- ruby carol / dan sartain
- silver lining / guards
- fire in the sky / palace
- st.walker / young the giant
- black beak / young blood hawke
- so what / the mowgli’s
- the deep end / hurricane bells
—A bunch of these are fairly old but it’s my first time really getting into the vibe of them. The rest are all recent hits that I’ve been subjected to listen to while working at Free People… and needless to say they’ve grown on me. I really love Widowspeak and Cage the Elephant. You can listen to this playlist here on my Spotify.
“Spirits of the East and Air, I welcome you into our circle and bid you well tidings. On this sacred night of Samhain, come dance with us. Spirits of the South and Fire, I welcome you to feast with us on this sacred night. Spirits of the West and Water, I welcome you to drink and be merry with us tonight. Join our revelries on this sacred eve. Spirits of the North and Earth, I welcome you to this hall and ask that you tell us stories from ages past. Speak easy and loosen thy tongue on this sacred night.”
I’m always looking for faerie/elven stories to read so you could imagine how excited I was to find Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm. Its a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast with an Irish folklore twist. Sorcha, a young midwife, is deep in peril when a plague sweeps across her village and takes root in her father. She had always been respectful of the Fae—leaving them offerings and praying to their deities—so when faced with such tragedy, she turns to them for a favor. In return, Sorcha finds herself sent on a suicidal mission across realms to the Otherworld where the Fae reside. It is there she will meet Eamonn, a banished king with a curse that allows for crystals to grow beneath his skin instead of flesh and blood. Together, they will need to rely upon one another in order to save her family and reclaim his throne.
I enjoyed this story. The world-building was rich and lyrical, the characters were beautifully described in their own gruesome makings, and the amount of references to Fae folklore made me beyond happy. Instead of just using the Fae as her mythical creatures, Hamm included beings like selkies, brownies, nymphs, and boggarts. And those are only a few. I think that when an author attempts to write a story about these specific beings they should always try to include a varying array of them, because, after all, the Fae are only one branch of species in relation to their thousands of kin. Its an entire spectrum of earth spirits we’re referencing.
Hamm even touched upon a favorite element of mine—the Seelie and the Unseelie. Often times, the Unseelie are described as the “dark” Fae (usually autumn and winter), and the Seelie are the “light” (spring and summer). In this book, the seasons don’t play any role but the notion of good and evil certainly does. Lesser Fae are those that don’t appear humanoid by Seelie standards, or don’t appear grotesque enough by Unseelie standards. There is a social contract within both major realms, and the political intrigue on the Seelie side will throw in a few plot twists that will make you question whether you’re reading about the right Fae.
The writing was easy to follow, simply put it was straight forward with a sprinkling of poetic moments here and there. I prefer more emotion and prose in the books I read, but maybe I’m biased because I still enjoyed this one very much. Another slight issue I had with it was the romance. Of course, I was rooting for the two main characters to get hitched since the first page because of the way the synopsis promises them to be lovers…but it somehow still felt forced. Thankfully it didn’t feel rushed, but there were a few times that I had to contemplate why the one character was confessing their emotions to the other when it felt like their wasn’t a basis to their emotional ties just yet.
The plot was decent, but you can surmise a great deal of what will happen because this is a loose retelling of a story that has been retold millions of times. People even draw parallels to another Beauty and the Beast inspired story that also includes the Fae and, yes, you guessed it: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Even though I’ve already begun to see people compare the two, I will just put my two cents out there and say that while they share glaringly obvious similarities, these stories are highly different and unique in their own ways.
All that being said, if you’re in the mood for a cute romance, or (like me) in the mood to always read about the Fae—here’s your next book! I’m currently reading the sequel and thus far it’s even better than the first.
I always enjoyed the Odyssey, but it was never a favorite tale of mine. Circe, for those who might not be familiar with the story, was a minor character who’s notorious moment of fame was when she turned Odyssey’s men into pigs. Yes, that actually happened—and yes, she made me enjoy the tale considerably more than had she never been written into it.
With that out of the way, I should begin this review by saying that while I have a decent knowledge of Greek mythology, this story would have been a bit of a struggle to understand had I not known specific myths. For many people, I feel that Circe is going to be one of those books that you’ll need to do some background research to truly understand what is happening. Miller provides enough resources that one can just surmise what is going on without having to recall some middle school lecture about the Odyssey, but there are still going to be holes left unfilled. Even for me, it was a bit confusing at times.
But don’t let this discourage you!
I was already a fan of Miller because of her other novel, The Song of Achilles, so Circe had some big shoes to fill. I’ll just say right now that I didn’t love this story as much as the other novel. For me, it didn’t have the same fast-paced and adventurous ambiance of TSoA, nor did it have the same emotional pull. Circe is a slower read. The romance is essentially nonexistent, which I liked, but the emotional angst wasn’t delivered to the extent that I thought it would be. What I mean to say is; I didn’t really care much for most of these characters. Not like I did with TSoA. However, they are both completely different tales, so its hard to base one book off of the other.
That being said, heres a rundown on the plot.
Circe is the firstborn daughter of Helios, god of the sun. Her father is a mighty Titan, and her mother a vicious water nymph. Growing up, Circe was an outcast because she appeared more mortal than immortal, and neither of her parents were pleased with her existence but they put up with her regardless. Years later, her mother gave birth to twins—Pasiphaë and Perses. They treated their elder sister with as much contempt as their parents. Circe, being used to the torment, went along with it for centuries. Later, another brother was born into the family named Aeëtes. Circe felt an overwhelming sense of adoration for her little brother and became immensely protective of him. He, in turn, became the only one who spoke to her as an equal.
Circe continued with life, walking in the shadows of her predecessors, until one fateful evening where Prometheus was held on trial for gifting mankind the creation of fire. The Titans unleashed their wrath upon him, and Circe, not knowing what else to do, waited until everyone left to come forth and speak with the cursed god. He told her of his love for mortals, and how their kind treats one another different than how the gods treat themselves. Thus, Circe starts to seek comfort with mortals.
A young sailor by the name of Glaucos enraptures her, and they soon fall in love. Circe finally discovers her powers and is able to transform her lover into a serpentine immortal, to which causes him great fame because everyone believes he was favored by the gods—not that she had been powerful enough to perform the impossible. But when Glaucos starts to fall for another, Circe goes before her father and claims that she was the one who transformed him. Of course, no one believes her. In her frustration, she transforms Glaucos’ new lover into a monster, and is banished to an isolated island to live out her days alone as punishment.
It is on this island that mortals came from the sea in hopes to find shelter. And Circe, having grown desperate, entertains each crew of men that arrive on her island until their true intentions cause her to take matters into her own hands. After attempting to rape her, Circe transforms the men into pigs. She repeats this for each ship that seeks refuge until Odysseus makes an appearances and pleads for her to change them back.
From there, Circe begins to understand life and its often cruel meanings.
I think what I enjoyed the most in this book was the character development. Circe goes from being a small girl who never stood up for herself to an angry woman who transformed people into creatures until she finally blossoms into a wise witch who’s whit and knowledge of mortal and immortal behaviors causes her to become a compelling force.
She is the type of character that you’ll find yourself rooting for. An underdog of sorts. And while she might not ever be the most powerful character in the tale, her presence is one to be noticed and that is why I ended up liking her so much. She doesn’t need blades or even her spells, she just has to rely on her patience and cunning. (There are a few moment between her and Athena that will really demonstrate this.)
Plot aside, Miller has such a beautiful writing structure that she could have given me a story about the adventures of a worm and it wouldn’t have been so awful. Its lyrical and flows smoothly—two things I love in a book. The pace might be a bit dragging at times, but it eventually picks up when you least expect it. Overall, you’ll be happy you kept going.
So if you’re looking for a romantic book, or one about bloodshed and battles, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re interested in a story with amazing character development that explores the many strengths of a women who has been tested by literally everything she’s ever had to deal with…congrats. Heres your next read.
My rating: 4/5
You know that feeling when you’re really in the mood for a specific book but finding it seems nearly impossible because theres likely nothing published that will match what you’ve conjured up in your mind? Yeah—that’s me with all of my reads. Lately, however, I’ve been craving Slavic folklore retellings. I find those fairytales to be the most intriguing, and I love the dark atmosphere they usually bring. But seeing as Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente and Uprooted by Naomi Novik are two of my all-time favorite books, the rest I come across have a lot to compete with.
What initially drew me into Cry of the Firebird by Amy Kuivalainen was the synopsis. “Firebird” being in the title was one thing, but “…a noir paranormal series that brings to life the bloody fairy tales of the North” made me cross myself and thank whatever Gods have been guiding me along my search. Honestly, it couldn’t have sounded better to me.
The ebook for Cry of the Firebird is FREE on iBooks right now, and if that wasn’t another sign for me to start reading immediately than I don’t know what else to tell you. Naturally, I stayed up until 4am for two nights before finishing the massive book (to be fair, its not super long but the online version was roughly 1,450 pages) and here’s what I’ve come to think of it.
It didn’t let me down, but it also didn’t exactly live up to my expectations. The writing is a little choppy at times, and there were a few phrases being overused when there wasn’t any need for them to be. I’d say that the first 30% of this book had me on the edge of my seat, but it kind of dwindled after a while and I felt as though I was reading the same scenes over again for chapters. There is also an influx of characters that come into play one after the next, and while I love books that have tons of characters I felt as though these ones weren’t getting the development that they deserved. The author draws you in with their stories, you grow attached, and then she leaves you hanging as to what will become of them. After all, there are so many to keep track of.
What I did enjoy about this book was the setting, plot, and the quirkiness and individuality of each character. For as many cons as I’ve listed, it balances out all of the pros. I’m still unsure how I truly feel about this one, but I’m leaning more towards a positive vibe because for all of its flaws, the good parts are too good to look over.
The characters—all one-hundred of them—are wonderful. I frequently find that with side-characters there are many authors who will bundle them together in similar mindsets so that they only serve the purpose of the main characters. That’s definitely not the case here. I loved nearly everyone, and it was wonderful to read how such a diverse cast came together for the sole purpose of defeating a threat to their realm. That’s was something I wasn’t expecting to happen, and it couldn’t have come as a nicer surprise.
World-building is definitely Kuivalainen’s strong suit.
We are brought across the Russian wilderness to a dark forest in an otherworldly spirit realm, back to Russia, all the way to France, and then eventually to Budapest. Each character is from a different country, a different era, and no two people (seemingly) share the same ‘species’ so to say. Bare in mind, everyone has a supernatural ability of sorts…or an unnatural talent with knives and guns and riding motorcycles.
I wasn’t expecting this to be a series so when I read the final page, a cliffhanger no less, I was ready to scream until I saw the prologue for the next installment. I’m definitely going to read all of the novels in this series because I need to know what happens next.
Perhaps this one isn’t great for getting out of a book-slump because of its length and swapping point-of-views, but it’s great if you’re looking for something new. Fans of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo will likely enjoy this one.