Series: CALL OF CROWS
Plot Type: Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—4; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: Kensington
The Unleashing (3/2015)
Odin is the top deity in this mythology, with Freyja, Thor, and other familiar Norse gods just below him in the hierarchy of power. Nine Viking Clans serve as representatives of the gods in the mortal world. As one Clan member explains, they are the hammers of the gods. Each Clan member is marked by a magical rune tatto specific to his or her Clan's god or goddess.
Eight of the nine Clans come from pure Viking (Scandinavian) blood lines. The ninth Clan—the Crows, Daughters of Skuld (one of the Norns)—is very different: "Unlike the other Nordic Clans representing different gods, the Crows weren't born into this life. They weren't raised in the Old Way or the New Way. They didn't worship the well-known gods like Odin or Thor or Freyja. None of them had last names like Magnusson or Bergström. Most Crows came to this life knowing so little about Vikings that they thought what they saw in movies was accurate...And yet, here these mostly non-Nordic women were part of one of the most feared Viking Clans. Feared because they didn't rescue, they didn't work to prevent Ragnarok, they didn't actively care about anything that the other Clans cared about. Instead, the Crows were known for their rage, for their hatred, and for their loyalty to each other." (from The Unleashing, p. 17)
The Crow Clan is the only racially diverse, multi-ethnic group among the nine Clans so the other Clans call them "Crow Mutts" and look down on them because they don't have pure Viking blood. Each Crow was saved by Skuld at the point of her death by her promise to become one of Skuld's warriors. The Crows' motto is "Let rage be your guide," and they follow that motto as they spend their nights slicing and dicing various enemies identified by Skuld, always living up to their reputation of being the harbingers of death. They also stand up for one another, always having each other's backs both on and off the battlefield. Each Crow has a particular special talent that is connected with her emotional state at her time of death. All to them can fly, and they all have the ability to communicate with real crows, who are their allies. The Crows use their wings during battle, so they do all of their fighting at night to keep their identities hidden from human view. During the day, they have normal human careers (e.g., lawyers, bankers, actresses).
Here is an annotated list of the other eight Clans:
Kera is used to a military life with its organization, rules and regulations, instruction manuals, training sessions, and hierarchy of command. She expects to be trained for her new position, but that's not how the Crows operate. They like to throw the new girls into the action without preparation or explanation, letting them sink or swim. This, of course, drives Kera crazy, and she and her mentor (Erin) get into some major fights (both verbal and physical) before Vig steps in to teach Kera the ropes. Much of the snarky humor comes from Kera's failed attempts to get the Crows organized into a sleek, well-organized military unit. Kara is used to working with serious warriors, but now her battle buddies are a bunch of cackling, gossiping, squabbling, party-hearty women. Kera also has some Brodie-related problems when some of the Crow girls fall in love with the dog and take her out on walks, buy her a pink tutu, and spoil her so much that Brodie spends more time with them than with Kera.
Another problem facing Kera is her resistance to killing. In the Marines, Kera was taught to try to defuse situations and not to kill unless absolutely necessary. Now, she is being ordered to slay a series of enemies without understanding what crimes those people have committed. Soon, her Crow sisters begin to think that she is a wuss who can't be counted on to follow through during a battle. To help her work through this difficult moral problem, Vig takes her on a trip to another realm for a talk with the ancestral Crows.
This book is STUFFED with expositional material, mostly world-building details and introductions to the huge cast of characters. In the background, the plot simmers along at low heat until it inevitably boils up at the end. That plot begins when someone begins stealing jewelry and precious metals from various Clans, all of whom believe that the Crows are the thieves. (That's what Freida's raid was all about.) Then the Protectors begin to find an increasing number of human sacrifices surrounded by mysterious runes. Meanwhile, Chloe has to deal with a rich and venomous neighbor who keeps suing the Crows because she wants them out of her neighborhood. Who is behind the sacrifices? What is their end game? What do the runes mean? Will the Crows and the Ravens solve the mystery? Why are the Clan leaders having debilitating nightmares? Will the neighbor succeed in ejecting the Crows from their mansion? All of these questions are answered by the end of the book.
As Kera learns the ins and outs of her new life, she and Vig find their friendship turning into lust and then love. Although Vig is a scary guy to most people, he is a gentle giant with Kera. The scene in which he teaches her to fly is especially touching. The lead characters are well developed and multi-faceted. Kera, especially is a fully formed character with whom we can empathize. Vig leans, perhaps, too much toward being a tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype, but he is such a great match for Kera that I didn't mind that very much. The other characters are mostly just sketched in at this point, but I'm assuming that we'll learn much more about each one as they take their turns in the romance spotlight.
I always enjoy reading Laurenston's books, with their snarky humor, quirky characters, and straightforward plots. This time around, though, I have to admit that the extremely large set of characters bogged down the pace, particularly when some characters (like Erin, for example) are sometimes called by their first names and sometimes by their last names. I think that Laurenston gives the Crows last names because she wants to emphasize their cultural diversity, but really, it just adds to the confusion. Now that I have all of the people and personalities sorted out, I'm hoping that I can sail right through the next book with minimal references to the lists in this review.
Note to the author: Readers would benefit from an annotated character page and a mythology page on your web site. Better still...include this information as an appendix to the next book.
Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Unleashing on its Amazon.com page. Just click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon on that page.