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Late Approval ARC Review: Children of Ragnarok (Runestone Saga #1) by Cinda Williams Chima


Release date: 8 Nov 2022

Rating: 4.5/5

Book boxes: LitJoy November 2022

Synopsis: Ever since Ragnarok—the great war between the gods and the forces of chaos--the human realm of the Midlands has become a dangerous place, bereft of magic, where most lead lives of desperation.


Sixteen-year-old Eiric Halvorsen is among the luckier ones. Between fishing, going vikingr, and working his modir’s farm, the family has remained prosperous. But Eiric stands to lose everything when he’s convicted by a rigged jury of murdering his modir and stepfadir. Also at risk is his half-systir, Liv, whose interest in seidr, or magic, has made her a figure of suspicion. Then a powerful jarl steps in: he will pay the blood price if Eiric will lead a mission to the fabled Temple at the Grove—the rich stronghold of the wyrdspinners, the last practitioners of sorcery.


Spellsinger, musician, and runecaster Reggin Eiklund has spent her life traveling from town to town, performing at alehouses all for the benefit of her master, Asger, the fire demon she is desperate to escape. Then after one performance that amazes even Reggin herself, two wyrdspinners in the audience make her an irresistible offer: return with them to the temple to be trained in seidr, forever free of Asger.


Eiric, Liv, and Reggin’s journeys converge in New Jotunheim, the site of the Temple at the Grove, a paradise fueled by magic. They soon realize that a great evil lurks beneath the dazzling surface, and that old betrayals and long-held grudges may fuel another cataclysmic war. It will require every gift and weapon at their command to prevent it.

Sweeping adventure, breathtaking twists of fate, and immersive worlds based in Norse mythology are woven into this first volume of the Runestone Saga, from the New York Times bestselling author of the Seven Realms and Shattered Realms series.

 

Review


Chima’s Children of Ragnarok took me completely by surprise. Traditional YA fare of late has been less than enticing for me, but this book is more like the YA of yesterday, with substance and plot and character, more interested in telling a story than going with the flow. It’s YA appropriate as well, though I would recommend it for older teens, possible 15 or 16 and up, as it’s quite violent. It’s bound to be if it’s about Vikings, though, right?


Eirik Halvorsen loves sailing and island hopping on his viking boat, but he’s stuck on a farm helping his mother and half-siblings get by because his stepfather is a completely useless drunkard who beats his family and is only interested in inheriting the farm from his wife when she dies. When an outburst of anger goes awry, Eirik, who has by now grown up and grown a beard, fights back. Stuff goes downhill from there.


Reggan Eicklund, slave to a fire demon, has strange magical powers and shows us the other part of the world, in taverns where she performs fake (or are they?) tricks for nominal fees from the patrons. After spinning some serious magic herself, which she seems to not know she had, she draws attention from magic-wielding warriors from a far-off mystery island who offer her the chance at freedom from her master in exchange for her attendance at their magic school where she must play catch-up andlearn the basics at lightning speed to be able to stay.


If the plot doesn’t sound complicated enough, we have several more story lines threaded together to bring all the characters eventually to the same space and tie them all up neatly in one big finale. This would make a recipe for a disaster of a narrative, but I think Chima, along with the hefty 557 page length, manages quite nicely to spin a tale that had me rapt from the beginning. The characters were very believable and relatable, the settings well described and immersive, and the plot so full of action and intrigue that I found it hard to put down until I was finished. Everything you think and assume about everyone is wrong, and if you think you’ve figured out what’s going on, keep reading. You may not have.


With all the action and plot development, I feel the one drawback had to be in Reggin’s magic usage. Though she spends quite a deal of time learning at a school, I was still left without an understanding of what runes are, how they were first developed, and how exactly Reggin is special in her abilities. I imagine perhaps the next book in the series may go into that more in detail, but I would have preferred, for all the work reading this giant tome, to get a bit of an explanation of the generalities of the magic system at least. As it is, we get tidbits of answers but not a full exposition. I realize it’s a series, but the magic feels foundational and first books are foundations.


Overall, 4.5/5. Highly recommend this book for YA readers who want a fantasy action/adventure novel with a heavy dose of coming of age and a side sprinkle (very light, just a teeny dusting) of romance.


My thanks to NetGalley for the ARC, for which I willingly give my own opinion, though I did get an audio copy from my local library as well.


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