by Juliet Marillier
Book 1 of Saga of the Light Isles
Ulf's new settlement begins in harmony with the natives of the isles led by the gentle king Engus. And Eyvind finds a treasure of his own in the young Nessa, niece of the King, seer and princess. His life will change forever as she claims his heart for her own.
But someone has come along to this new land who is not what he seems--and to him Eyvind swore a childhood oath of lifelong loyalty. Now he's calling in the debt of honor, but what he asks of Eyvind might just doom him to kill the only thing that Eyvind has ever truly loved.
Will the price of honor create the destruction of all that Eyvind holds dear?
I hate to say this, but this book pretty much gave away its entire plot in the beginning during the "tale" that one of Eyvind's Wolfskin brothers tells, about the honorable warrior who chose loyalty over love, thus killing the girl he was to marry because his mentor wanted vengeance against her people... or some such nonsense... and then ended up living a life of regret and sorrow.
This is definitely not my favorite Juliet Marillier book, and I had considered giving up on it at least twice. Truth be told, I had a hard time finding any character to relate to or like, and found myself a bit frustrated with everyone, if only because of the whole "blind loyalty and honor" crap that was being thrown around. But Marillier has a way of writing that is magical and draws you in when you least expect it. And so I persevered, being both determined and too stubborn to give up, if only because I wanted to know how Eyvind's tale would end differently than the tale that was told by the Wolfskin brother at the beginning of the book. Because I knew it would, if only because the laws of plot twists kind of dictate it... sort of.
As I'd already mentioned, I had a hard time liking ANYONE in this entire book... save maybe Rona, the wise woman, just because she seems to be the only voice of reason, as brief as her appearances are.
I had a brief discussion with a friend about this book when I was a little over 25% into it, wherein some of the main adventure was starting, but wherein you already had an idea how everything was going to progress. And even though my friend was not also reading this book, after what I told her about it, we both decided that Eyvind's so-called friend, Somerled, was not really much of a friend at all, and we both wondered why they were even still friends. But yes, I know--loyalty, and honor, and blood oaths, and such.
I get that Eyvind felt the need to protect and stick by Somerled's side, no matter how terrible of a person he was, no matter how toxic his behavior and words were, and no matter how many others in the community he managed to successfully alienate because he didn't seem to understand how to be polite... or even tactful, for that matter. Eyvind was all about the honor and the loyalty and following commands from his warfather, Thor, or his chieftain, without asking questions--that was how he grew up and that was how he understood life.
Somerled was a bonafide drama queen, wallowing in his own angst, always complaining about the fact that no one cares about him, and no one likes him. But then he'd turn around and spout off terrible things, insulting everyone around him, even Eyvind without even caring that he was doing so. And this wasn't even a lack of self-awareness in Somerled's behavior--this person was very much conscious of what he was saying, what he was doing, and you could tell that he felt himself superior to everyone else, and so he didn't care who he hurt or pissed off. Everything he did or said was carefully calculated to cut as deep as possible, and so no matter how lonely and pathetic he was portrayed to be, I just couldn't see any of it as justification for his behavior, to be honest.
He's implied on multiple occasions that he thinks of Eyvind as a simpleton, who only knows how to fight, kill, and go to war, often telling him to stick to what he knows, because he believes it's obviously hard for Eyvind to try thinking with his brains. He manipulates Eyvind's friendship with his self-pity, and then he throws Eyvind's loyalty in his face whenever Eyvind even so much as disagrees with him. If this is how Somerled treats the only friend he has, then I already had an idea how he was going to treat everyone else, especially his enemies.
He insults women with innuendos of what he believes their worth is, which, if you can imagine, is not terribly nice or acceptable.
And so it frustrated me to no end that Eyvind continued to stand by Somerled's side in spite of all the suspicions he has about Somerled: the rape of a girl, or even the strategic murder of a man made to look like an accident... It boggled the mind how Eyvind could continue to blindly stay loyal to Somerled even though you could see him feeling conflicted about Somerled's toxic behavior, or his suspected wrong-doings.
The book started picking up more when Eyvind meets Nessa. Their interactions are a bit deliberate, and their romance extremely insta, but that didn't really bug me too much. Nessa was a great heroine, and I liked that we got to see more than just Eyvind's POV regarding Somerled and the evil tyranny that started taking place. In fact, I actually enjoyed more of the book when Somerled wasn't in the picture, which is strange considering how I DO like a good villain with some depth. But somehow, Somerled was so cliched and so predictable that I had issues with him.
On top of that, I felt like he was way overpowered. Really, Somerled held onto his power with a simple ideal of blind loyalty. While I might have understood the blind loyalty, I never understood why everyone around him was so afraid to go against him. Somerled is not physically strong, nor does he have any otherworldly power. If the Wolfskins really wanted to, they could overthrow him if they felt he was overstepping his authority in his lust for power and control over the Light Isles, blind loyalty be damned. I mean, I find it hard to believe that Eyvind is the only one of the Wolfskins, or even of the settlement of Norsemen, who realized Somerled had broken all the rules of fair warfare and battle. That he wasn't leading his people to simply winning a kingdom, but massacring helpless villagers and enslaving women and children.
I had a hard time believing that no one else would have been against Somerled, or that the ones who didn't agree with his ways simply slunk off quietly to evade notice. Especially since many of the Wolfskins who had been Somerled's brother, Ulf's, followers knew him for a conniving, unwanted troublemaker in the beginning.
Marillier DOES touch upon a good point that might have explained the Norsemen's eagerness to follow Somerled into the slaughter of the islanders, though. There's an implication that the islanders's culture and spiritualism produced fear among the Norsemen who'd settled. After the death of Ulf, Somerled used the unknown mysticism surrounding the islanders and the Light Isles, to rally his cause, by insisting that typical warfare could not be used against them if they wanted to win this war. And so those who followed Somerled were willing to cut down all the helpless islanders because of their prejudices and Somerled's misrepresentation.
It makes a kind of sad sort of sense, really, but that doesn't make it right, and it doesn't mean I have to like it. But it IS human nature, as much as I hate to admit it.
Anyway, aside from my complaints about Somerled, the rest of the book was actually pretty good. The writing was excellent, the story premise was promising, and I liked Nessa... to an extent, because she had her moments where I didn't really care about her. The writing might have gotten a little overboard in flowery prose, but nothing that dragged or felt like stuffing.
I may or may not continue with the next book in this duology just for completion's sake, but I probably won't be rushing out to find access to it too quickly.
Roll #4: (See also Memorial Day Bonus Roll Activities)
Square: The Summer Blockbuster 27 | Read a book that features a hero's journey or is a Bildungsroman (coming of age tale), or that has a word related to space in the title (i.e., star, planet, rocket).
How it fits: This book is a hero's journey.
Page Count: 516