Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young
Two clans, both alike in badassery, in fair ancient Vikings-land, where we set our scene. Yes, Sky in the Deep is an iron-age Romeo and Juliet. Two warring clans are scheduled to fight every five years (for no other reason than: fight). It is on this battlefield, and in a very very cool first scene, that Eelyn first spots her dead brother.
Thrown by his appearance, Eelyn is captured by the enemy, where she is taken to their lair in the mountains to serve as a slave, except instead she falls in love with not only the people, but the man who had saved her brother. It's a cool concept. The Vikings are cool, the fight scenes are (for the most part) engaging and thrilling, and there is a timely message of tolerance hidden somewhere in there. I wanted to like this book, but I found there were things holding me back from it.
Let's start with what I liked: I loved how Young described this world. The first battle scene was especially cool to me as they communicate in whistles and clicks, in a code the warriors have learned in training - it's the little details like that that really pull me in. And there's the description of the twinned nighttime sky, which made me sigh as I longed to be there to see that myself. In fact, the whole book in some ways made me want to see the Northern Lights again.
I love Eelyn with her axe and her swagger. I'm never not going to love the warrior-maiden thing. I might not agree with all the fighting, but I am all in that if there's going to be fighting, Eelyn is going to be in the middle of it.
There is a little ragamuffin wannabe warrior in here too that drew on the heartstrings. Halvard is a boy from the enemy clan, and Eelyn starts to feel protective over him, the first time she opened up to one of her captors. Basically Halvard is the cutest. Obviously, it would be him who would bring about the end of a war.
It is the war itself that really destroyed the credibility of the book. Every five years, the clans get together and fight to the death. For no reason other than their "gods" say so, and then it leads to an endless cycle of avenging prior deaths that goes on and on in time forever. You think at some point along the way someone would have stood up and shouted "Time out! This whole thing is fucking stupid."
Because it is deeply deeply stupid. At first I thought, maybe this is a commentary on the futility of war. But the thing is no matter what the war, ever, in human history, there is always a practical element to the extravagant loss of human life - for land gain, or material resources. Even in the case of religious wars (which are, for the record, deeply stupid), somebody stands to gain something. Often there are people behind the scenes in said religion calling the shots and spinning the truth in order to get what they want. But here, the clans don't want anything other than to murder the other clan, then stop when the whistle blows or whatever and go home and nurse their vengeance for five years. They don't want the other tribe's stuff, or land, or women, or anything. Even the religious leaders just shrug and say "hey, that's god stuff, we just have to do it." And it is so stupid I couldn't suspend disbelief.
"It seemed so foolish now, all the fighting."
There is this idea of tolerance, that Eelyn learns that this other tribe who has been murdering/being murdered by her clan for centuries lives just like them, and realizes they are all human, and have the same needs and loves and maybe we should all just get along? Huzzah, a moment of sanity. But then the two clans get together ... in order to go and murder another clan who has been murdering them. And they murder everyone and yay peace? What? Presumably murdered tribe would also be humans who have needs and loves and is also killing for the sake of religious nonsense? But this is a win because their gods are REALLY bad, and not just kinda bad like the other clans who have also been murdering each other for centuries. Is this other clan worse because they don't murder on a schedule? I would have liked it if the tribes could have come together for something else, literally anything else, than murdering yet another tribe. Like a disease, or a threat to their environment, or even zombies. It would have made more sense.
Also nitpicky detail but the climax was over in like a blink of an eye and I got the sense the author was just wanting to get this over with. I was getting nervous as the big throwdown still hadn't happened at, like, ten pages left, and they it just happened with very little emotional reaction and I was thrown by the pacing, which was definitely off. So. I don't think I recommend this read. Cool concept, but in reality made me really angry and I feel like the whole thing could have been better thought out.
In its defence, it has the most beautiful cover. This cover is glorious.