Many thanks to publisher and NetGalley as I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book to review in exchange for an honest review.
Initially, I was excited to read this book due to the intriguing and dramatic premise: a mix of Vikings, the Sight, battle and revenge. While this book certainly did supply these things in small sprinkles, it’s a strange tale with a writing style that may cause some readers to give it a pass.
The story follows a young Viking woman named Bera who is the daughter of a prominent figure. After a complicated incident, Bera’s close childhood friend is killed and she is torn between her guilt and the desire to commit revenge. While most readers might assume that her revenge will be a key focus of the story, unfortunately it is barely mentioned again, pushed aside for other events and subplots. In a swift arrangement, Bera is later forced by her father to marry the chieftain of a rival clan, whose second-in-command is responsible for her late friend’s death.
There’s also some vaguely explained fantasy element of Bera wanting to develop her inherited gift of Sight, and her ongoing visions which show inevitable disaster. Without the latter additions, I doubt that the story overall would really be missing out on anything.
The majority of the story focuses on Bera’s marriage with the rival clan’s leader, and how she must adapt to becoming the mother of his child. For some reason, Bera and the son are immediately hostile to each other, and while this makes for an interesting contrast as they later get to know each other, it isn’t very well explained why they should hate each other so intimately, especially on Bera’s side. Relationships are also strangely developed in other parts of the novel, particularly with a love-hate inconsistency with Bera’s husband. She initially wants revenge, and then love, and sometimes within the same page there is a shift from love to hate to desire and then back to hate again. While a difficult relationship can be interesting to read about, in this case it distracted me from the rest of the story and ended up being confusing to my understanding of their marriage. However, a satisfying ending clarifies the way they feel about each other in a way that does not leave Bera a weak female character.
The main criticism I have for the book is the writing style, which is insanely fast. Many passages I had to quickly read again, having missed out on important plot points. Setting is barely explained, making the events (as dramatic as they were) harder to vividly imagine. The fact that the reader is initially plunged into the story without sufficient description, and with characters we know very little about, makes it harder for the reader to become fully invested in the story to care about what happens to the characters. Although some of the side characters do eventually become more interesting and complex as the novel progresses, there are some modern words which slip into the dialogue which makes the story sound less authentic for its historical time period (“crap” particularly stood out).
Additionally, I also found Bera to be largely unlikable as a protagonist. While many things happen to her, she barely reacts to them. The premise promised me a strong character out for revenge, and yet the majority of the story barely delivers on this, instead giving us an unlikable lead with an immediate hatred for those around her – especially shown by her strained relationship with her stepson. She does get less tiresome as the story develops, but a satisfying ending does not make up for the rest of the novel.
Even the Goodreads community seems divided on this one, with many glowing reviews and many less impressed one too. For me, this was a tumultuous read and I found myself unable to be entertained due to a lack of character to root for. Bera didn’t quite hook my interest, and I didn’t think the world-building was enough to immerse me into the story. However, other reviewers seem to enjoy the character shift in Bera as well as the unusual setting. With such mixed reviews, I would recommend checking out the book for yourself to see if it might be your cup of tea. Released earlier this year, there still remains to be a general readership consensus, but I hope that you may find it more enjoyable than I did.
The Book of Bera is a Viking adventure fantasy novel which follows the saga of Bera, a young Viking woman who is struggling to control her invisible twin spirit and develop her inherited gift of Sight.
On a long winter night, Bera is left to defend her stark village alone, and in the ensuing battle, her dear childhood friend, Bjorn, is killed. When soon after her father weds her to the chieftain of a rival clan, Bera realises the unthinkable: his second-in-command is responsible for her friend’s death. Though she must now learn how to be a wife and a stepmother to a hostile boy, Bera vows her revenge and sets off on a path to grow in power and hone her skills in the rough, macho clan into which she has been sold.
As her gifts continue to grow, her visions of looming disaster become more and more ominous until she has to make the ultimate choice: Will she choose revenge? Or will she succeed in leading her people to safety before it’s too late?