Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reader's Review: "Skeins Unfurled" by K. M. Vanderbilt

Synopsis from Amazon:
When the murder of a god shatters a thousand years of peace, chaos reigns among the known worlds. Even the Norns, blinded and stripped of their powers, cannot see how it will end. Left without guidance, some gods choose to make their own fates. Others cannot. Old ties are torn apart while new ones are forged. And amidst that tenuous balance, ancient secrets emerge. War looms on the horizon. In a struggle where battle lines constantly shift and allies just as quickly become enemies, nothing is sacred. For some, the end comes sooner than Ragnarok. 
My Review: 
What is more unique than a multiverse theory? Try a multi-pantheon premise. Tyr presides over most of the other pantheons, regarding few as his equals. Amid the network of heavenly realms, each has their own series of arch-gods, gods, and spirits. After Baldr is killed, Tyr uses the reputations of the others to get Loki banished to the abandoned corner of Asgaard, while trying to satisfy his lust for complete control by restricting the movements of other gods. They are all cut off from their worshipers, and Tyr hopes that this will conserve the power of the gods and they are better off without all the meddling.
Adding to the mix is the "svartalfs" (dark elves) whose own realm is dying. The arch-god Forbelo has in his possession a "breadth key", an artifact of immense power. (If I recall, it essentially gives the bearer access to all realms everywhere, or something). Tyr wants it, but Forbelo would rather keep it safe, so Tyr doesn't mind "keeping" Forbelo himself. But there is a goddess Anjaeraste who desires to usurp Forbelo and claim the breadth key—only Forbelo knows where it is, and he would die before revealing that to her. This, out of all the others, is a side of mythology I hadn't heard before, and I really enjoyed it! I couldn't even tell if Vanderbilt had invented it all her own, or it was based in another culture--which is pretty much exactly the place a mythology writer wants to be. Well played!

The plot is complex and yet the Norns themselves could not have woven it better. Loki is a complicated villain—one is almost sympathetic to his plight as his nature as a Jotün troll is constantly reiterated, and Tyr would rather see him and his sons (a wolf and a world-serpent) banned from existence. Tyr is also presented as an even bigger jerk than all the rest, as his response to any threat to his power would be to annihilate and subjugate. And yet Loki still makes those selfish and amoral choices that we would expect from a "trickster god" like him--especially when placed in contrast as an opposite to the sun-god Freyr. Loki uses the beings who worship him to accomplish his own diabolical purposes, whereas Freyr wants to see the "weaker" mortals rise up in their own sort of glory, as well as reinstating the gods. Some profound life lessons on the nature of true leadership are surely found here!
Freyr is a sympathetic protagonist as he has a genuine concern for repairing the breach between the realms, Midgard included. Yet even he is not without flaws, as the nymph Vatten soon points out the arrogance in Freyr's bearing. 
Speaking of Vatten... "Midgardians" Vatten, Emise, and so many others are fantastic characters, were so vivid and fascinating that I wanted to keep reading if merely for their sakes. The interactions between the characters brought out the various dimensions and rounded out their characters very well, also giving the reader plenty of food for thought! As things in the "celestial realms" are steadily worsening, the gods' best hope just might lay with the mortals they abandoned long ago.

I would give SKEINS UNFURLED a solid *****4.5 STARS*****—a bit tedious and at times too confusing in parts, but definitely 5-star in terms of complexity and depth of the plot and the characters! This is pretty heavy reading, I'd say it's more "New Adult" than "Young", and definitely a good fit for those who enjoy classical mythology, maybe even grown-up fans of Rick Riordan's books (which I think are fantastic!) who are looking for something similar, but on a more mature level. For sure I am looking forward to the rest of the Breadth Key Cycle!
Further Reading: (Mythology/Traditions/Urban Legends/Religious Mythology)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie