Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson is the first book in a series (The Valhalla Saga) that seems crafted specifically for fans of History Channel’s Vikings who want something more, set in the fascinating world of Nordic warriors and their fierce pantheon of gods. Set in 996AD, Swords introduces readers to the conflict between the Christian King Olav and the pagan believers that inhabited most of Norway during the time period. The conflict appears to be loosely based on the real attempts of King Olaf I of Norway, who used violence and coercion to force his religion on his subjects and to spread Christianity throughout Scandinavia. I suspect that the full Valhalla Saga will cover his entire four-year quest to convert the region.
Renee Winters has always been a normal girl, except for her odd ability to find dead things wherever she goes. She hangs out with her friends, has started dating the most popular guy at her California high school, and is excited to finally turn sixteen and get to drive; however, on her sixteenth birthday she finds her parents’ dead bodies in the redwood forest near her hometown, surrounded by coins and with gauze stuffed into their mouths. The police claim the cause of death is simultaneous heart attacks, but Renee believes that something unexplained occurred. Before she gets a chance to investigate, her estranged grandfather whisks her away to the gothic, mysterious Gottfried Academy in Attica Falls, Maine, where a similar death took place on campus the previous year. Renee is sure there’s a link between her parents’ and the former Gottfried student’s deaths, but the Academy thrives on buried secrets and punishes those who try to uncover them. Eerily beautiful fellow student Dante Berlin also distracts the sixteen year old who finds herself drawn to him in a way she can’t explain. The answers to all of Renee’s questions are hidden in the past, and they could change everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.
In the world of Potara, the ancient Greek and Egyptian societies lived on, evolving and developing new technologies based around the energies of the universe. Some special individuals are even able to wield these energies with the power of their minds alone. They are The Gifted. A child of prophecy is promised to accomplish great things for Potara. Fortunately, he was found, a young boy named Leoros from another world, the planet Earth. Unfortunately, after being trained, he followed a powerful enemy back to Earth and was trapped there upon defeating him.
There’s a lot going on in the Crimsonstreak novels by Matt Adams. From jailbreaks to totalitarian governments to alien invasions to an exploration of infinite possible universes, the books—much like their titular protagonist, a superhero and legendary “fastest man on earth”—tend to move at breakneck speed. Sometimes, this is to the books’ benefit. Other times, less so.
Forever, In Pieces by Kurt Fawver is a bittersweet collection of eighteen short stories that probe and investigate the nature of human existence. The collection from Villipede Publications is billed as speculative horror, but, for me, the majority of the tales felt less horrific or creepy than philosophical examinations on aspects of being. I realize this sounds like an intro to philosophy survey course description, but Fawver’s introduction to the book indicates that he also anticipates readers finishing his work thinking about complex ideas and their own mortality rather than being shocked or horrified by the monsters within it. Each story stands on its own, but they flowed easily, one into the next, as I read. Like the concept of eternity, the eighteen tales form a circle, and I actually felt a little cheated when the book ended without looping back to the beginning to start the cycle again.
A Cold Season, written by Alison Littlewood, is a spine-tingling horror novel revolving around Cass, a woman who is trying to start a new life for her and her son Ben after the death of her husband on the front lines in Afghanistan. She settles on the idyllic town of Darnshaw, needing only an Internet connection in order to run her website design business. Soon after moving to Darnshaw though, she slowly realizes there’s more to the town than meets the eye. Almost immediately after moving in, Cass finds most of the locals to be none too pleasant, and Ben starts acting out, becoming extremely hostile towards her, lashing out at her verbally and physically. Soon, Cass is locked in a battle with evil for her son’s life.
Duke is a hardworking, blue-collar guy who just hasn’t had much luck in his life . . . or does a good job of blowing what luck comes his way. He lost several body parts to a tour of duty in Afghanistan, spent time in jail for assaulting his ex-wife’s current boyfriend, struggles with gambling debts, student loans, and a mortgage payment on said ex-wife’s home, barely is allowed visitation with his six-year-old daughter, attends 12-step meetings for substance abuse and anger issues, and works as muscle for one of Houston’s resident villains. Things get interesting, though, when he fails in obtaining an artifact for his employer and gets sent on a quest to retrieve it, which uncovers a strange tale that turns the superhero genre upside down.
*For mature readers
In the land of Tremont, the saying “When Nerr (the male god of love and sexuality) gets the Heir” means something is highly unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, when current heir to the throne Temmin is summoned to the capital on his 18th birthday for training to become king, he is instantly drawn the current Embodiment of Neya, the female half of the gods of love and sexuality, and no other woman can compare. The gods have complex rules, though, and Temmin’s lack of sexual experience prevents him from simply making an appointment at the Lovers' Temple. His only option is becoming a Supplicant, an official training position in the Temple lasting two years and two days, and accepting both Embodiments of the twin gods as his teachers; however, King Harsin, Temmin’s father, fears a prophecy that states the common people will benefit when the Heir devotes himself to the lovers, and he will do almost anything to stop his only son from bringing it to pass.
MeiLin Miranda’s Son in Sorrow picks up a year into Temmin’s supplicancy at The Lovers Temple. He is now nineteen years old and has picked up many skills for reading and manipulating people; however, the Heir is struggling with an inappropriate exclusive love for Allis, the Embodiment of the female half of the Lovers, Neya, which affects both of their abilities to perform their required duties. Outside the Temple, the political intrigue hinted at in Lovers and Beloveds takes center stage as various individuals and groups, both inside and outside Tremont, begin power plays to take control. Not all of them harbor love for the monarchy either, which could destroy the very world the nobles long to protect. Sedra, Temmin’s eldest sister, also takes center stage as a political pawn as King Harsin finally moves to create alliances through a royal marriage, but his intelligent, strong willed daughter may not be as biddable as he anticipates. The political machinations and Temple issues spiral together in the strangest of ways, leaving Temmin feeling even less prepared for his responsibilities as Heir to his kingdom.
There are dozens of deep and thought-provoking questions that swirl around the themes of Turbulence by Samit Basu. Some of the simpler ones include, “What if you suddenly got what you wanted most in the world?” and “What would you do if you had superpowers?” Of course, just about every comic, movie, novel, and story ever written about heroes has tackled these, but Turbulence takes it further. These simple questions lead to the bigger question, “What if you really had a chance to change the world?” Which then raises the question, “Would it be worth the cost?” Because there’s always a cost.
And, finally, my favorite question of the book, raised less directly, but perhaps the most pertinent of all in terms of the story’s themes: “What’s the difference between a hero and a villain?” The answer to that one may seem simple at first, but after reading the book, you might not be so sure.