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Saturday, October 28, 2017

SPFBO Semifinalist: The Songweaver's Vow by Laura VanArendonk Baugh (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website

Order The Songweaver’s Vow HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Laura was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame her childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth and unable to walk, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer.

Laura writes historical and fantasy works as well as non-fiction in the art and science of behavior and training. She live in the state of Indiana and is often traipsing in the Midwest as an active cosplayer.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: She tells Greek legends to entertain Norse gods -- until one of her stories leads to murder.

When Euthalia’s father trades her to Viking raiders, her best hope is to be made a wife instead of a slave. She gets her wish – sort of – when she is sacrificed as a bride to a god.

Her inhuman husband seems kind, but he visits only in the dark of night and will not allow her to look upon him. By day Euthalia becomes known as a storyteller, spinning ancient Greek tales to entertain Asgard’s gods and monsters.

When one of her stories precipitates a god’s murder and horrific retribution, Euthalia discovers there is a monster in her bed as well. Alone in a hostile Asgard, Euthalia must ally with a spiteful goddess to sway Odin himself before bloody tragedy opens Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world.

FORMAT/INFO: The Songweaver’s Vow is 304 pages long divided over thirty-nine chapters and an author’s notes section. Narration is in the third person via Euthalia solely. This is a standalone story.

February 21, 2017 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Songweaver’s Vow and it was self-published by the author. Cover design is provided by Damonza.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Songweaver’s Vow was a book whose blurb details were a hook that I simply couldn’t resist. The story had an intriguing mix of historical fiction (to a minor degree) and Norse mythology (majorly) and also one of the most original SPFBO entries (in terms of plot) that I’ve read so far in the past three years.

The plot begins with Euthalia who’s travelling along with her Greek father and whose ship gets accosted by men whom we later find to be Vikings. She’s been selected as a slave or a dragon bride who is to be given to the dragon. Not knowing what that means, Euthalia is terrified and faces an uncertain future. Things however take a turn for the strange when she faces a kind persona who doesn’t reveal himself but tells her that she is his bride. Soon she’s transported to a different land wherein she finds one of the villager woman named Birna waiting to meet her. Soon she finds that she is in Asgard of yore and that she’s wedded to one of the sons of Odin but she never sees him (as he only comes in the pitch black of night & forbids her from visiting in the daylight).

Thereafter she meets the various personae of the Asgardian court such as Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and more. But she still doesn’t know who her husband is and soon her curiosity leads her down a path wherein all the horrible Norse legends come in to play. Soon Euthalia realizes how twisted the fates can be and how capricious the gods truly can be.

What I loved and enjoyed about this book was the way the author had presented this story. To the average reader (due to the advent of the Thor Marvel movies) there’s some background knowledge of the whole Asgardian entities. For readers with a definitive knowledge of Norse mythology, they will certainly enjoy how the author portrays Asgard and all of its inhabitants. From Euthalia’s point of view, it’s an interesting thing to see as she’s a person from an age wherein knowledge wasn’t easily available and we the readers having knowledge of the events & personae will certainly enjoy the thrill that the story offers.

The biggest plus points of the story are the story settings and characterization. Beginning with the story settings, the way the author frames the story, we get a very “Alice In Wonderland” feel however the author quickly shows the reader and Euthalia how dangerous these new lands and people are. I loved how the author intermingled the various Norse myths about people and events and streamlined the story to reach an effective climax. Personally I’m a big fan of mythology and when used effectively it can be a huge plus. This story does that in spades and I’ve to hand it to the author for her superb use of Norse myths and quirky facts.

Going on to the characters, this is where it gets tricky as we have Euthalia a human and almost everyone else is a Norse persona (gods, demons, etc.) The author wonderfully keeps the story grounded from Euthalia’s human perspective as she undergoes, awe, shock, wonderment, jealousy & a bunch of other feelings. The author wonderfully keeps the story focused within Euthalia and her husband’s love and manages to make it epic but focused tightly. I enjoyed this narrative aspect of the story which made it personal but not claustrophonic.

At the same time, the author also provides a startling look in to the Asgardian persona and this is where she excels. As while we get to see all the gods from Euthalia’s perspective only, she does wonderfully well to differentiate all the gods. We get to see them with all their grandeur, cruelty, capriciousness & otherworldliness to say the least. I loved reading about them and their encounters with Euthalia. It was fun trying to decipher who Euthalia’s husband was from the legends that I knew. The author’s reveal was certainly a big surprise to me and to Euthalia as well.

It’s for these two solid reasons that I couldn’t stop reading this story and I finished it within two-three days of reading at night. The story builds up slowly but surely and then the plot pace picks up nicely and then races along to a Ragnarok of a finale. The finale is definitely a stunner and ties into perfectly with Norse mythos. I enjoyed how neatly the author ties up the story in the end. There’s also a love story which is nicely tied into the main plot, in fact I would say it’s what powers the whole story. The love story is kind of subdued and for those who look for more sparks and intimacy, might be disappointed. Lastly for those looking for a lot of action and adventure might not find it to their heart’s content.

What I mean is that while there’s are a few specific action sequences (particularly highlighted by Norse legends), there’s no overt action sequences like in the Marvel movies. There’s some interesting aspects of Greek mythology and story which Euthalia introduces to the Asgardians and it was interesting to note the parallels between both these mythos and how the Asgardians reacted to the various Greek tragedies and the characters within. This was an interesting contrast provided by the author and I would loved to see more of this explored within.

I enjoyed how the story played out but there were certain portions in the book when the pace slackened and it made the read a bit uneven. The love story like I mentioned previously is what fuels this plot but it didn't quite have that touch of otherworldliness which I thought was otherwise wonderfully shown with the other Asgardian characters. These were the only drawbacks which I experienced within this book. I’m sure others might find other things to nitpick about it but honestly it would be very subjective.

CONCLUSION: The Songweaver’s Vow is an interesting story and kudos to the author for exploring this unique angle. The Songweaver’s Vow is an imaginative cross between “Alice In Wonderland” and Norse mythology and I can’t recommend it enough. Laura Vanarendock Baugh showcases her imagination & writing skills deftly with it and I for one will be on the lookout for her next book intently.

2 comments:

Kay said...

That sounds so interesting!

Kay said...

How interesting! I always love a good mythology inspired read and this sounds like a really new way to approach that. I'm always a sucker for the invisible husband element and have read far too many renditions of Cupid's wedding being similar. This all sounds like it needs to go on my TBR pile!

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