Author: Susan Krinard
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles: Tor
"Freeze Warning" (prequel e-story or free on-line, 10/2013)
Black Ice (7/2014)
This world is based upon Norse mythology, and in the first book, Loki and Freya make their appearances, along with an elf, some frost giants (aka Jotunar), and the two sons of Odin. (Vidarr and Vali). In this mythology, Mist, the Valkyrie series heroine, has lived for centuries in Midgard (the mortal world), believing that she, her sisters, and Odin's sons are the only survivors of Ragnorak, the twilight of the gods, which resulted in the destruction of Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods.
To the detriment of the series, Krinard fails to include a glossary or an annotated character list in her books or on her web site. (Although she has a "Glossary" tab on her web site, it is currently empty.) The closest she comes to helping out the reader is a list of four links to Norse mythology web sites, and even then, she posts this warning: "All Norse mythological tales and sources are subject to individual interpretation, and the MIDGARD series makes use of my own variations on these myths. Please use these resources as general guides only." So…not much help there. In my reviews, I will provide pink-links to the Norse terminology in an attempt to assist you in understanding who's who and what's what.
In book 1, Mist learns that the Aesir—the pantheon of Norse gods—didn't die after all. They are suspended in spirit form in Ginnungagap, the Great Void, where they are rebuilding Asgard and planning to cross into Midgard in the near future. The trickster Loki, however, has other ideas. He seeks to dominate Midgard, and in book 1 he has managed to bring some frost giants across a bridge, or portal, to Midgard to assist him in his plans.
The series story arc is introduced in book 1: Just before the final battle, Odin gave each of the Valkyries one of his treasures, which they were to guard until he found them again. The Valkyries were then sent to Midgard, where they eventually scattered and lost touch with one another. Now that the Aesir is planning to enter Midgard, the Treasures become very important because each one has powerful magical properties. Here is a list of the twelve Treasures and the names of the Valkyries who guard them:
> Horja: Gridarvol, the Unbreakable Staff
> Eir: the Apples of Idunn (food of the gods)
> Hild: eight-legged Sleipnir, Swiftest of Horses
> Bryn: Freya's cloak, which gives the power of flight
> Olrun: the lost Sword of Freyr, which needs no hand to wield it
> Regin: Mjollnir, the Hammer of Thor
> Rota: the glove called Jarngreipr, to which the Hammer must return
> Skuld: Megingjord, the Belt of Power
> Hrist: Bragi's Harp, whose voice charms all creatures
> Kara: the Gjallarhorn, Summoner of Warriors
> Sigrun: Gleipnir, the chain that cannot be broken
> Mist: Gungnir, Odin's Spear that can never miss its mark
PREQUEL STORY: "Freeze Warning"
I definitely recommend that you read "Freeze Warning" before you read Mist. Too bad that it wasn't available when Mist was first published because it would have helped me out as I slogged through the dense mythology of that novel.
This 32-page-long story presents two sets of background information, both of which should have been included in a prologue to book 1. The flashbacks are divided into brief, alternating scenes—an awkward means of presentation that needlessly breaks up the story. Basically, we go from Asgard to San Francisco to Asgard and back again and again.
The flashback to Asgard takes place just before its destruction in the huge battle that resulted in the Valkyries being sent to Midgard and the Aesir being sent to Ginnungagap. Mostly, we watch Odin assigning each Valkyrie the treasure that she must guard while living an immortal life in a world without the gods.
The other flashback takes us to Mist's first meeting with "Eric," whom she sees as a sexy, attractive man who wants to date her. (At the beginning of Mist, Eric is Mist's live-in boyfriend.) In this story, Eric shows up just in time to help Mist rescue a mysterious woman dressed in rags from a bridge-jumping suicide attempt. Later, the woman—Bella Stratus—gives Mist a warning that Mist doesn't understand at the time: "No matter what happens, it is your Fate. You cannot surrender, even when it seems you must fail." Obviously, "Bella" is supposed to be a character from the Norse pantheon, but the closest reference I could find is Beyla, a minor goddess, who appears briefly in Lokasenna, an epic poem in which Loki shows up at a feast and insults all of the other gods and goddesses in attendance, including Beyla and her husband. Bella could also be the same woman (described as a "rag lady") who appears to Bryn (one of the Valkyries) in book 1 and tells her to find her family.
It's really a shame that this novella has been published as a separate story when it should have been part of Mist. The whole problem with this series is its complex, heavy world-building, and the Asgard part of the story would certainly have been helpful in making sense of that mythology.
Click HERE to read this story free on-line. Or…if you prefer the e-book format, the story is currently selling on amazon.com for 99 cents. The best thing about the e-book format is that when you come across a strange-sounding, unfamiliar Norse term, you can click on it and get an immediate definition.
NOVEL 1: Mist
At this early point in the book, Mist's "normal" life begins to fall apart. As if the frost giant isn't enough, she finds an injured elf in the Park after she vanquishes the giant. That elf is Dainn, who explains to Mist that he is a messenger from Freya and that the gods did not perish, but that they exist in the Great Void and are trying to get to Midgard. In the meantime, the villainous Loki has already crossed into Midgard, and he is right there in San Francisco. Unfortunately for Myst, Loki is a shape-shifter who can make himself look like any animal or person and any gender, and she soon learns that "Eric" isn't really Eric—he is Loki. What Loki wanted from Mist was Gungnir, Odin's spear, and before Mist can get back to her warehouse, Loki has stolen the sword and disappeared. The rest of the story follows Mist and Dainn as they plan their strategy for defeating Loki and retrieving Gungnir. Additionally, they have to figure out how to locate Mist's Valkyrie sisters so that they can protect the Treasures form Loki.
What Mist doesn't know is that Dainn is withholding a great deal of information that directly involves her physical and mental health. Freya, you see, has some secret plans for Mist, and Dainn is supposed to help her carry them out in exchange for Freya's help in removing a curse that Odin put on Dainn for his treachery before the great battle.
As the suspense builds, Mist struggles to unleash and control magical powers she never knew she had. Dainn keeps reminding her that she must take a leadership position as the Aesir prepare for their return and as Loki builds an army to oppose them. She must find her sister Valkyries and gather the Treasures before Loki can find them, and she must use her magic to defend the Treasures and her allies.
If you can get through the mythology, the story is filled with compelling action and angst-filled emotion. Both Mist and Dainn battle inner demons (sometimes literally) as well as tangible enemies. Loki is a great villain, with a nice balance of arrogance about his own considerable powers and uneasiness that he doesn't really know the extent of Mist and Dainn's powers. Mist's character is also well balanced. Even though she feels overwhelmed by events and frightened of what lies ahead, she shows courage and intelligence as she fiercely defends her growing "family" and strategizes with Dainn on how to defeat Loki and his minions. I'm looking forward to future books as Mist and Dainn search for the Valkyrie sisters and their Treasures, with Loki either constantly on their trail or two steps ahead of them.
This is urban fantasy—complex urban fantasy; it is not paranormal romance. The author obviously has a series story arc planned, and because this is the first book, there is a lot of exposition so that she can delineate Mist's world as she takes us through Mist's adventures. Some reviewers have down-rated the book because of the heavy Norse mythology, which is not so familiar to the average reader as the Greco-Roman pantheon. But really, you don't have to dig too deeply to understand what is going on. Mist is the heroine; Dainn is the dramatically flawed hero; Loki is the villain; Freya is...well, Freya is Freya—a devious and ambitious goddess who looks out for herself, first and foremost. At the end of the book, Mist's allies begin to arrive, and we'll probably meet them a few at a time as the series continues, with lots of time to understand their place in this story and in Norse mythology. I recommend this series, based on book 1 (and the anthologized short story) because it has great characters, a complex and fascinating premise, and a strong opening book. If you don't believe my opinion, click HERE to read the four-star review in the May issue of RT Book Reviews.
Click HERE to read an excerpt from Mist. Click HERE to read the author's summary of Mist. You might also want to read the short story "Mist" in the anthology Chicks Kick Butt to get a taste of the series.
NOVEL 2: Black Ice
Have you ever loaded up your plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet and then discovered that there was too much food, that it had all run together, that some things weren't as good as they looked, and that you wished you'd been wiser in your choices? If I were Susan Krinard (or her editor), that's how I would be feeling about her MIDGARD series about now. As expected, the first novel was loaded with world-building exposition, but so is the second book—more characters, more mythology, more villains, more secrets, and few answers. And all this with no help for the reader—no review of previous events, no glossary, and no annotated character lists. In other words, it's up to the reader to memorize all the characters' names, histories, and motivations and to keep track of the myriad story lines. I accepted all this in book 1, but I was defeated by it in book 2. It was such a struggle to keep track of everyone and everything that I soon found that I didn't really care what happened to these characters, particularly since none of them can be trusted (except for Mist).
Basically, the plot focuses on Mist, Dainn, and Loki. Mist is busy gathering together her lost Valkyrie sisters and their treasures, while Loki is doing the same. Dainn fights at Mist's side, but he spends much of his time covering up a myriad of secrets, lying to just about everyone, and trying to stay out of Loki's hands. Traitors turn up right and left throughout the story, with some still unmasked when the story ends. And speaking of the ending: That's where this series jumps the shark—at least in my opinion—with some shocking (and creepy/kinky) news for Dainn and an introduction to a brand new villain (just what this series does NOT need).
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS: Here's the list of the Valkyries who are discovered by Mist and/or Loki in this book: Regin, Rota, Eir, and Hild. In addition, there's Anna Strangeland, who appears to be an amalgamation of characters, past and present, and who seems to be essential in locating Horja, another Valkyrie sister. And here's the list of mysterious children: Gavi, Ryan, and Danny. They all have supernatural powers, but their roles in the series are as yet unclear. Then we have Bryn's motorcycle gang, particularly Edvard, who turns out to be more than a mere human. There's also a shape-shifting, talking raven who may (or may not) have a connection with Odin. By the end, Mist's mortal allies begin showing up, and they include both civilians and military types. Also among Mist's allies are some Alfar (elves), but they are not trustworthy because of their ties to Freya. With this huge cast of characters, one would hope for some character development to help the reader keep everyone straight, but that hope is in vain. This book is action-oriented and mythology-weighted, so there is no room for Krinard to provide depth to any characters except for Mist, Dainn, and Loki. Actually, Loki is the best-developed and most interesting character in the series so far. Mist is so dour and duty-bound and Dainn is so guilt-ridden and secretive that I find myself unable to connect with either of them.
And there's one more mysterious character: Do you remember the "rag lady" who gives Mist in a warning in "Freeze Warning" and sends Bryn off to find Mist in Mist? Well, she appears to Ryan in this book; he calls her a "bag lady." In this book we learn her (possibly) true name, but not much more.
By chapter five, Mist has a lengthy to-do list, which she explains to Dainn: "We have a missing goddess [Freya], closed bridges [portals], a Jotunn in the closet, ten Valkyrie to locate, no idea of when more allies will show up, and a very unpredictable beast [Dainn's inner beast] to control. Of course that's not counting trying to figure out what Loki's going to do next." (p. 53) When Mist isn't fighting off attacks from Loki, the Frost Giants, and various other monsters, she is dueling verbally and emotionally with Dainn, who never gives her a straight answer if he can manufacture a lie or an evasion. Dainn has been keeping secrets from Mist from the very beginning, and he's also keeping secrets from the reader. The book is written in the third person omniscient voice, but the narrator turns out not to be as omniscient as one would hope because the characters hide their secrets from the reader as well as from each other. They are so careful that they don't even think about their secrets (so that the omniscient narrator can't read their minds and spill the beans, I guess).
Although I admire Krinard for putting together this complex mythology, I believe that her failure to provide reading aids has doomed this series. I can't believe that her editor didn't suggest a glossary and a character list, if not in the book then at least on her web site. If Krinard had stopped piling on new mythological details and minor characters in this book and had, instead, added depth to the more important supporting characters, particularly to the Valkyries, this novel might have been more successful. As it is, the heavy additions to the world-building drag down the pace to a crawl, as does the dialogue, which rarely advances the plot. Even though there is lots of action, when a motorcycle gang member is killed in battle, I didn't feel any emotion because I knew absolutely nothing about her but her name. In summary, I have to say that I'm giving up on this series and will not be reviewing any more of the novels, although I will add titles in reading order at the top of this page as they are published. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Black Ice.