Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Valkyrie Rising

Nothing ever happens in Norway. But at least Ellie knows what to expect when she visits her grandmother: a tranquil fishing village and long, slow summer days. And maybe she’ll finally get out from under the shadow of her way-too-perfect big brother, Graham, while she’s there. 

What Ellie doesn’t anticipate is Graham’s infuriating best friend, Tuck, tagging along for the trip. Nor did she imagine boys going missing amid rumors of impossible kidnappings. Least of all does she expect something powerful and ancient to awaken in her and that strange whispers would urge Ellie to claim her place among mythological warriors. Instead of peace and quiet, there’s suddenly a lot for a girl from L.A. to handle on a summer sojourn in Norway! And when Graham vanishes, it’s up to Ellie—and the ever-sarcastic, if undeniably alluring Tuck—to uncover the truth about all the disappearances and thwart the nefarious plan behind them.

Deadly legends, hidden identities, and tentative romance swirl together in one girl’s unexpectedly-epic coming of age. Quoted from Goodreads
First of all, I have a horrible confession to make.  I can't help but picture Loki as anything other than Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers and Thor.  Usually I don't have a problem with this, and half the time Loki in Valkyrie Rising was his own, separate self.  But then the movie would pop back into my head.  Honestly, I don't know why.  Even books like Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables are completely separate from their movie counterpart, but for some reason, Loki is always trying to look like Tom Hiddleston.

Okay, now on to the real review. Norway. Big plus. I love books that take you somewhere else, and Norway was fun, without being a character in the story.  Plus, I feel like the new setting was a big factor in Ellie's growth as a character.  It forced her to be someone separate from Graham's younger sister, at least for awhile, and helped her change.

Now, mythology.  Norse mythology isn't anything new, though it's a nice change from vampires and angels.  I've read dozens of books that draw from their legends, but here's the thing.  None of them have focused on the Valkyrie in particular.  Thor, Odin, the aforementioned Loki, absolutely, but not Valkyrie, and I thought that was a refreshing change. Plus I like how Ingrid Paulson portrayed the Valkyrie as the best and brightest of Odin's army, able to take on anyone or anything and look good doing it.

The thing I liked best about this book though, are the relationships.  I loved Ellie and Graham's relationship.  They are cute, realistic siblings.  They are devoted to each other, yet they fight.  They are protective, almost overly so, but happy to give each other space.  Then there's Tuck, Graham's best friend. And he felt like it. Too often the brother's "best friend" really seems to be closer to the love interest from the beginning, and it comes across almost like they were just using the sibling to get to their sister.  Not that case with Tuck.  In the beginning, he was absolutely Graham first.  It was only as their adventure progressed and he realized he was falling in love with Ellie, that he started to put her first.

And the romance! And the romance! (sorry, that's the thirteen-year-old inside me, coming out) It is absolutely adorable.  It is apparent from the beginning that it's going to happen, so no surprises, but it grew throughout the book, so when you finally get that first kiss, you're as in love with Tuck as Ellie is. 

Now there's the villain. I won't say too much about Astrid, but she was excellent.  Half the time I hated her, and kind of still hate her, but she wasn't just a one note character.  As the book progressed, she became much more dynamic and conflicted.  Maybe it's horrible, but I kind of liked having her beat up Ellie. Not that Ellie deserved it, but part of me was afraid that her new powers would make her the best with no practice or experience.  No dice.  Astrid kicked her butt every time they fought, which perversely makes me happy.  You have to have a strong villain that forces the protagonist step up. I won't give away the end, but it wasn't Ellie's kick-boxing prowess that saved the day, that's for sure.    

There were only one or two little problems I had with the book.  First, there's Hilda, oh, and Hilda. Don't get me wrong, she was a delightfully mysterious character, but I had a few issues. She claims that she was planning on telling Ellie about her heritage over the summer, but it bothers me when people keep secrets like that from a kid as they're growing up, especially with strange powers emerging. Why wouldn't you help the poor girl? From the beginning, even before she goes to Norway, Ellie is showing signs of Valkyrie abilities, but no one thought they should maybe mention that small detail to her? Even after she got there, when she had one week alone without Graham, Hilda doesn't say anything about her heritage and brushes her off when Ellie brings it up. Then Hilda doesn't do anything about all the missing boys until  things have escalated way beyond the point they should have and her grandson is captured.  While I love the story, in my opinion, Ellie should never have really been involved in the first place. Hilda should have stepped up a lot sooner, and knowing what was going on, she should never have let Graham into the country.

For me this book is probably a fun 3 stars. Why, you ask?  Here's the thing.  I liked almost everything about it: characters, setting, pacing, and romance. The problem is I finished it last Saturday.  That's three days, but it kind of feels like I read the book three weeks ago.  Don't get me wrong, I will absolutely read any sequel that comes out, and it was a fun adventure while it lasted, but it didn't stay with me much beyond the last page. Still, check it out.  I could easily see this one being someone's 5 star book.

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