Monday, 6 May 2013

Valkyrie, by Kate O'Hearn

Valkyrie: “A handmaid of Odin,” says my dictionary, “one of twelve who accompanied the souls of slain heroes to Valhalla, the palace of bliss where the souls of slain heroes feast for eternity with Odin, the supreme creator.”

I studied Greek mythology and Roman mythology at school, but never, to my recollection, Norse mythology, which is where the Valkyries hail from… Growing up in Asgard, the upper world where Odin rules, Freya knows what will be expected of her when she turns fourteen: she will have to take her place among the Valkyries, traveling to battlefields on Earth to select human heroes and bring them to Asgard, where for all eternity they can feast in Valhalla by night and practice their battle skills by day. But it all leaves rather a bitter taste in Freya’s mouth. The warriors that fill Valhalla are repulsive to her, interested only in drinking and fighting, and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. But she has no choice, she is Valkyrie and to reap the dying is her fate, her destiny.

Kate O’Hearn is probably best known for her Pegasus series, bringing Greek mythology to modern times, throwing a human girl into the Greek world, but with Valkyrie she has turned the tables, starting with a character from Norse mythology and throwing her into the human world. Because, despite her dislike of human beings, when Freya collects her first soldier from the battlefield she makes a promise to him, a promise she is determined to fulfill: to help his troubled family. And so, with the help of the trickster Loki, against all the rules, she sneaks across Bifrost, the light bridge that connects Asgard to Earth, and goes in search of Tyrone’s family. The trouble with Loki, though, is that he thrives on mischief. Can Freya do what she needs to and return to Asgard before Loki stirs up trouble?

In Valkyrie, O’Hearn has cooked up an interesting blend of myth and modernity. Although I would have liked a little more myth and a little more pace, Valkryie is filled with moral dilemmas, action, and one girl’s determination to do the right thing. I wasn’t always entirely convinced that what Freya thinks is the right thing is actually the right thing – time and time again she is told she should not interfere in the mortal world, that it will have consequences far and wide beyond each of her seemingly small acts – and she swings contradictorily from wanting to save humans to hating them and back again, but at least she means well, and overall she takes the right path. “Kate O’Hearn serves up a winning mix of modern adventure and classic fantasy,” Rick Riordan (author of Percy Jackson) is quoted as saying, which sums the book up extraordinarily well.

Gradually Freya learns that battles and wars are not the only things that drive humans and that the things they care about are worth fighting for. With flying horses, Dark Searchers, guardian angels, and quite a lot of running and fighting, Valkyrie has much to entertain young readers and, just maybe, will spark an interest in a different mythological realm that is just as rich in history and lore as that of the Greeks and Romans.

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