Series: VIKING WARRIORS
Plot Type: Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—4; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Sourcebooks Casablanca
1 Viking Warrior Rising (11/2015)
1.5 "Viking Warrior Trouble" (story in Tales of the Valkyries, 9/2016)
2 Viking Warrior Rebel (10/2016)
This paranormal romance series features the trope in which a group of studly, supernatural men have been sent from another realm to protect the Earth and its human population from the minions of an evil god. In this case, the handsome hunks are immortal warriors sent by the Norse gods to prevent the destruction of the human world (aka Midgard). There are six main outposts of Vikings and Valkyries in Midgard, each led by a king. Contrary to traditional Norse mythology, in this world the Valkyries are not just horse-riding gatherers of dead warriors. These Valkyries are skilled immortal warriors who fight alongside their male comrades, the Vikings. Both the Vikings and the Valkyries are exceptionally strong and are possessed by inner berserkers—personal, rage-filled warrior spirits that feed on strong emotion and make them even stronger in the heat of battle.
The series focuses on one small band of immortal Vikings that is led by their king, Leif, who is the hero of the first novel. They live in an isolated, magic-protected fortress in the middle of the pine forests of eastern Washington state, and they spend their days and nights tracking down and killing monsters and bad guys who threaten human civilization. Currently, they are being plagued by gangs of two-legged creatures created by humans in a laboratory: "Their faces were narrow and pointed, vaguely resembling wolverines. They could pass for human, except their eyes were black voids and sharp claws extended from the ends of their fingers."
This story line provides the second trope: evil "scientists" working with chemicals and DNA to create creatures with supernatural abilities who are supposed to do the bidding of their creators. The same people who created the wolverines also experiment on hybrid humans, who enter the novels' plots after they escape and, somehow (what a coincidence!) meet and join with the Vikings.
If you are at all familiar with Norse mythology, you'll know that what's at stake here is, literally, the end of the world—Ragnarök. According to legend, Asgard (realm of the Norse gods) is ruled by Odin and his wife, Freya. Their nemesis is the half-god/half-giant, Loki, who—in this mythology—is not a trickster, but a heartless, power-hungry narcissist who is determined to destroy the world and everyone in it until he is the only one left standing.
The third trope—and the reason for the designation as a soul-mate romance series—is that in this mythology there is a legend that each Viking and Valkyrie has a chance of meeting his or her själsfrände (aka soul mate). The själsfrände bond requires complete surrender and trust from both parties and must be completed willingly within a brief time limit. If the bond is not completed on schedule, the berserker within the Viking or Valkyrie will take over and he or she will be completely overrun by battle fury. If that happens, there is no other choice but to sedate the out-of-control berserker and send him or her to Valhalla to an eternal sleep. The själsfrände bond strengthens both partners and is signaled by the appearance of magical tattoos on their arms, the inability to remain apart, and visions of Odin and Freya.
As the series opens, these are the members of Leif's band of warriors:
NOVEL 1: Viking Warrior Rising
When Loki's forces descend, immortal Vikings are humanity's only protection against the dark.
Under attack from Loki's minions, immortal warlord Leif is shocked to encounter a dark-haired beauty who fights like a warrior herself. Wounded and feverish, the Viking kisses her, inadvertently triggering an ancient Norse bond. But when Naya Brisbane breaks away and disappears before the bond is completed, Leif's warrior spirit goes berserk. If Leif doesn't find her fast, he's going to lose himself to permanent battle fury. But Naya doesn't want to be found...and he'll do anything to find her. Because they're both running out of time.
This novel was a 2016 RITA Finalist for Best First Book and Paranormal Romance.
Leif, the hero of this novel, is the king of the band of immortal Vikings and Valkyries who live in a fortress in the middle of a forest not far from the small town of Pine Rapids in eastern Washington state. The ruling Norse god, Odin, believes that Leif is the king that ancient rune stones predict will prevent Ragnarök, the final battle. One night, Leif goes off alone to a nightclub to allow his berserker to feed off the sexual energy emanating from the crowd. There, he is attacked by a group of Loki's wolverine creatures, who knock him unconscious with a dart dipped in a powerful poison. Coincidentally, just as the attack on Leif occurs, a beautiful, enhanced human named Naya Brisbane is just leaving that same club. She intervenes and saves Leif's life, but in the process she is poisoned by a wolverine's claws. After Leif's healer, Irja, saves her life, Naya recuperates in the Vikings' fortress for a few days, and Leif realizes that she is his själsfrände.
Ordinarily, this would just be the usual play-out of a rocky romance that ends with a typical HEA, but Naya's past life lends some complications to that scenario. Both Naya and her brother, Scott, have spent the past decade or so as lab rats—imprisoned for reasons unknown to them and forced to submit to painful injections of various chemical compounds. For Naya, the experiments resulted in super-human abilities: enhanced physical strength, smell, hearing, and cognition. For Scott, the experiments went awry, sending him into a long-term coma. In the first chapter, Naya manages to rescue Scott from the lab and get him to a facility that will care for him and try to heal him.
The Leif-Naya romance has a lot of roadblocks, some of which are blatant authorial manipulations to string out the story line to novel length and others that are more interesting. Leif is the typical über-alpha male who has trouble expressing himself verbally and solves every problem with either sex or violence, so he seduces Naya but keeps putting off explaining to her that he is a thousand-year-old Viking and that she is his själsfrände even if she doesn't agree. To make things worse, even though he realizes that he loves Naya, he doesn't tell her that. In fact, when he finally comes clean about the själsfrände bond, he makes it seem as if it is something that just happens and that they both must go along with it—no mention of love and no explanation of what will happen to him if she refuses. This is completely illogical and totally ridiculous—just the author's effort to add some complexity to the story—and it doesn't work. The only part that does work is the fact that both Naya and the wolverines were created in the same lab. Why were Naya and her brother chosen to be lab subjects? What is their connection with the wolverines? Is Naya programmed in the same way as the wolverines? Is this another one of Loki's tricks?
Leif and Naya are typical paranormal characters: the big, sexy alpha male and the beautiful, feisty heroine. They also are typical in their faults. He is the strong silent type and she is the I-can-do-it-myself type, and both of those characteristics lead to danger and heartbreak. Leif's inarticulateness combined with Naya's independent streak sends Naya into several extremely dangerous TSTL moments that are completely predictable. These are the types of clichés that I dread finding in a paranormal romance because they indicate a strong lack of creativity on the part of the author.
Based on the overuse of well-worn paranormal romance tropes, I rate this as a middle-of-the-road series that mostly fails to add freshness to the genre, although Bradley's promotion of the Valkyries from dead-warrior gatherers to full-time warriors does add a faint note of creativity. She also does a decent job with setting up the Viking world-building, which is no small thing since it is a complicated mythology. I plan to read the anthologized story and the second novel before I make my decision as to whether I'll stick with the series. I just hope that Bradley breaks away from stale, overworked tropes and gets more inventive with her story lines and her character development.
Click HERE to read an excerpt from Viking Warrior Rising on the novel's page at amazon.com by clicking on the cover art.
STORY 1.5: "Viking Warrior Trouble"
Young warrior Sten Agnarsson is in Montana to buy guns for his band of immortal Viking warriors when he runs into some trouble. Loki's monsters attack him, his car breaks down, and he meets a sexy waitress named Cassie who he has real trouble keeping his hands off.
"Viking Warrior Trouble" is not a "story." It is a first chapter and a last chapter in search of a middle—like a sandwich made of two slices of bread with absolutely nothing in between—no meat, no special sauce, and no flavor. First, the soul mates meet, fall instantly in lust, and battle a few of Loki's wolverines. Then we skip over the next four months completely, only to end with a super-quick HEA. So...no love scenes, no angst, no romance, no character development, and no new information relating to the series story line. It's a good thing that this anthology was free because I would have been really cranky if I had paid for it.
Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Viking Warrior Trouble" on the anthology's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art. As of this date (10/5/2016), the anthology is free for the Kindle.
Astrid Irisdotter is a Valkyrie—a fierce warrior fighting to protect humanity from the evil god Loki and his brutal minions. She's on an urgent mission for her queen when everything goes hideously sideways. Undercover agent Luke Holden arrives on the scene just in time to save her life—and put his own on the line.
Luke may have saved her, but that doesn't mean Astrid can trust him. Tempers flare as they hide secret upon secret from each other, but Astrid's inner warrior knows what it wants...and it will not take "no" for an answer.
This time, the soul-mated lovers are Valkyrie Astrid Irisdotter and human hybrid Luke Holden (aka Luke Hager), the shady club owner who was Naya's client in the first novel. Holden fell hard for Astrid the first time he saw her in the club, and they had a single sexy night together before both came to their senses and backed away from one another. So...you may be asking yourself, if Holden is Astrid's själsfrände, why doesn't the magical snake tattoo on her arm complete itself like it did with Leif and Naya? Well, apparently the gods and goddesses have made the själsfrände process even more complicated than we originally thought, and you'll have to read the book to learn why.
The action plot revolves around two connected story lines:
First, Leif sends Astrid to Denver to pick up Naya's brother, Scott, from the clinic so that he can come to her wedding. When Scott leaves the clinic before Astrid arrives, he gets captured by a gang of the wolverines and Astrid—with Holden's assistance—has to rescue him.
Second, back in Washington, there is increasing activity among the wolverines. When they kidnap some women, the Vikings learn the horrific truth about Loki's future plans.Meanwhile, we learn early on that Luke Holden isn't just a nightclub owner. He is an undercover cop who works for a deep-cover agency within the FBI called the Domestic Terrorism Unit (DTU). It turns out that Luke started investigating Naya's connection to the North Dakota labs (where she and her brother had been held and which she destroyed) because her image was picked up on a surveillance video on the night she went back for the antidote. By now, he has expanded his investigation to include all of Naya's friends, and that includes Astrid. All the way through the book, Luke agonizes over the fact that he is making love to Astrid and telling her how much he cares for her while deceiving her about his true motives. He (and we) know that Luke will be facing his own personal apocalypse when Astrid discovers his unforgivable, deceitful secret.
Luke suspects that Naya and her friends are somehow connected with the running of the labs, and if they are, he is determined to punish them for their dark deeds. You won't be surprised to learn that Luke and his brother, Donovan, were lab rats just like Naya—taken from their parents at an early age and injected with cocktails of chemicals and DNA. Like Naya, Luke's body thrived, but, like Scott, Donovan became ill. After Luke and Donovan escaped from the lab, Donovan's mental illness overwhelmed him and he committed suicide. Avenging Donovan's death is the only thing that keeps Luke going, and it remains first and foremost in his life—even more important to him than Astrid.
As you can imagine, the angst levels in this novel are quite high, with many, many internal monologues from both Astrid and Luke. Bradley throws in a few additional complications as well: a sulky Viking warrior who tries to hit on Astrid, big problems with Astrid's berserker spirit trying to go wild, and major complications within the DPT after Luke sends a sample of Astrid's blood to his boss to be tested. By the end of the book, it is obvious that we have stumbled into yet another well-worn trope: a spy in the higher echelons of the U.S. government who has been paid off to assist in Loki's nefarious plans.
In one scene, we get a clue that Naya's brother, Scott, may be the själsfrände of the Vikings' medical officer, Irja, so we'll see where that leads. At the end of the book, three of Leif's people (Scott, Ulf, and Pekka—Irja's twin brother) head to the Viking kingdom in New Mexico to help them with their wolverine problem.
I'm still not sure if I'll keep reading the series, particularly since it keeps adding stereotypical plot lines with nothing fresh or inventive to shine them up. I will admit that Luke and Astrid are interesting characters, although Astrid's unhappy childhood story has been done to death in many other paranormal novels.
Also stereotypical is the constant lying and secret-keeping by both lovers. This also happened in book one, so it looks as if it's going to be embedded into each love story. To me, this deceit-between-lovers trope is both ridiculous and very annoying. It will probably spell the end of the series for me if it continues in novel three. In essence, then, this series is only for those readers who unequivocally love the paranormal romance genre in its purest generic form and are not looking for any kind of innovation.
Click HERE to read an excerpt from Viking Warrior Rebel on the novel's page at amazon.com by clicking on the cover art.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Viking Warrior Rebel is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.