Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, modern life on a heathen path, community interaction, and general heathenry.

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Review of Horn of the Kraken

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Set in the Fate of the Norns universe originated by Andrew Valkauskas, Horn of the Kraken by Stephen B. Pearl is the first in a new series within that universe. This is a universe full of magic and fantastical beasts, where the Norns choose human champions. Based on historical conversion-era Europe, featuring some historical figures such as Eric Blood-Axe, Horn of the Kraken is also set during Fimbulwinter, the prelude to Ragnarok. Fimbulwinter is the breakdown in the cycle of the seasons in which the sun never rises again and winter lasts until the end of the world. The world’s central problem is the mass failure of agriculture, and the world’s politics centers on the impact that would have if it occurred during the Viking Age. The villains, who are Christians out to convert the heathen and control the world’s economy and political structures, are using a mysterious new superweapon, the Horn of the Kraken.

Into this come five chosen heroes. Fjorn is a nobleman and a fighter/bard. Politics stalks him because of his bloodlines. Sigurlina is a seidhkona, a type of heathen witch with powers of necromancy and healing. She serves Freya and is sworn to avenge her family against Christian ruler Hakon. Audun is a rune master who has a near-death experience at the hands of the Christian enemy that echoes the story of Odin’s runic initiation on the Tree. Ragna is a thief. She tags along to get out of town ahead of trouble. Vidurr is a werewolf who serves Surtr, the king of the fiery underworld who is prophesied to fight against the gods at Ragnarok and destroy the world. Vidurr’s sole desire in life is to avenge his family against the Christian “crusaders.” Although those who serve Odin and those who serve Surtr are theological enemies within heathenry, they join forces against the outside threat of the Christians. Pearl knows enough about heathenry to portray both the Odin’s man and the Surtr’s man as having no god-based conflict with the Freya’s woman.

The beginning of the book is a little clunky as the five heroes and the villain are all introduced individually, but after the characters start interacting, the story turns into a wild ride on a longship of doom. The fights and the intricate political intrigue are both historically plausible. The magic, character development, and sneaky dirty tricks are all equally believable and exciting.

My favorite character was the talking raven, Muninn, who became delightfully funny as the book developed. I also liked that there were a couple of Christian characters who were good guys, since making every Christian in the book a cardboard villain would have detracted from the believability of the world and its intrigues. The ebook copy I read could have used some more copyediting, but as it was an advance reading copy supplied to the magazine by the publisher, those issues will hopefully be fixed in the full published edition. Although the quest for the Horn is over by the end, several major political plots are unresolved, so there is obviously another book coming. I can’t wait to read the next installment of the crazy adventures of this unlikely band!

There’s something here for readers of all types of historical fantasy: those most interested in the historical elements, those most interested in the pagan details, those who enjoy stories that resemble Dungeons and Dragons parties on adventures, humor fans, even zombie fans who love to read about the draugr, the zombie of Norse mythology. Every name is straight out of the lore. Every piece of equipment, clothing, weaponry, and even most of the magic is right out of history. I recommend this book for those interested in reading authentic heathen stories, or just a rip-roaring good tale.

This review by Erin Lale of Horn of the Kraken by Stephen B. Pearl is based on an eARC (electronic Advance Reading Copy) supplied by the publisher to Witches & Pagans Magazine.

Image: The cover art of the book Horn of the Kraken

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners and other books. She was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is gythia of American Celebration Kindred. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office.

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