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Heathen Paperback – August 8, 2017
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Story: Viking maiden Aydis has been exiled from her tribe after kissing a girl. With nothing to lose, she decides to free the cursed Valkyrie Brynhild from her prison of Flames. But Odin is not so easily circumvented and Aydis will soon become embroiled in the machinations of the Norse Gods.
First and foremost (and not evident from any of the covers) the illustration work throughout is superb. Expressive, distinct, and possessing the impressive qualities of mixing fine art with cartoon qualities. The animals are especially fascinating - I was especially enthralled by a vignette about the wolves of Ragnarok, Hati and Skoll (sons of Fenrir). But even Aydis' wight horse Saga is particularly emotive in ways distinct to that animal. I found I was staring at the pictures just to enjoy them independent of the story.
Which isn't to say that the human shaped characters weren't equally wonderful to enjoy. Most of the characters evoked similarities to the Disney style of Hercules. Which isn't to mean that this is children's fare, just that stylistically Heathen is very enticing and friendly. There's nothing gritty or harsh here as one would expect from most Viking stories these days. Instead, this is much like a fable though admittedly with very modern sensibilities. Indeed, that anachronism is perhaps the only real issue I have with Heathen: it tries a bit too hard and single mindedly in that respect. Every subplot is about women's rights or that of the LGBT world and it got a bit too narrow for me at several points.
I enjoyed all of the characters and appreciated that at its heart, Heathen is about love and acceptance. The volume does end abruptly and without a complete story arc - readers will be left wanting more. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
So here's the situation, Aydis gets caught kissing another girl and her father pretends to kill her so she can run away. So Aydis takes it upon herself to try to break the curse that the god Odin put on the leader of the Valkyries. This story is pretty much a classic quest story, and I loved it so, so much! As a fan of mythology, I was super into reading about the Viking culture through this comic and seeing how the Gods relate to mortals. I don't know a lot of norse mythology, but I'm really interested in it and definitely want to read more of Aydis' story.
The story arc in this comic is very much about finding yourself and being okay with that. It's also about trying to overcome adversity when you are the "other" that scares simple-minded people. We see this not just in what Aydis' experiences at the hand's of her village's male leaders, but we see it later when a "witch" is being cast out from her village and Brynhild basically takes matters into her own hands to solve the problem.
One thing I really enjoyed about this story was all the little hints about how Christianity was starting to take over Viking culture, and forcing them to change their ways. I love the part when Aydis is asked why she wears a helmet with horns when her people have never done that before. It also plays a part in the scene when Brynhild helps the "witch". I found these little nuggets of showing the world and culture changing to be super interesting and gave me more context about this story.
I can't write a review about a comic book without talking about the art! I really liked the style of art in this one. It's done in a very muted tone with neutral blacks and browns. In the beginning when we get the story about Brynhild the style almost looks like a primitive style reminiscent of cave paintings, and I thought that was a cool way to introduce us to the setting of this story. The art style really reflects the grittiness of the setting and really gave me a feel for what life was like in Viking society at this time period.
My only issue with this comic is that it was over too quickly! I want to read the next one right away!
Too often, these warrior girl tales buy into the cliche fantasy tropes established by male fantasy writers (because they were the first, so they got to set all the rules).
NOT THIS BOOK.
I loved HEATHEN. Aydis has a great backstory, and her motives are pure even if she sometimes acts too impulsively. Freyja was awesome; it's rare to see a good female character who oozes sexuality. And Bryhild was so great - tortured and Byronic in a way that few female heroines get to be. Her doomed romance with Sigurd caused all the feels.
If you love fantasy novels and bad-ass women and comic book novels and vikings, you will love this book, I think. The writing is good, the art work is beautiful, and all the female characters in here are complex and interesting and thoroughly fleshed out. I honestly can't wait for volume two.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars
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