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Review: Loki's Wager


Title: Loki's Wager (Vikingverse Book Two)

Publisher: Outland Entertainment

Author: Ian Stuart Sharpe

Pages: 414pp

Price: $16.95 / $7.99

Ragnarok. The world is in flames, devastated by a stellar explosion. Empress Trumba -- cruel, manipulative, and narcissistic -- is determined the rebuild the world, just as it was foretold in the ancient prophecies. To do so, she needs Idunn Lind, a priestess-scientist, a Verdandi, a walker of the greenways and protector of the World Tree that spans universes. But there are others who have plans of their own, schemes which set Idunn hurtling through realities to a parallel Earth where stuffy, pious Churchwarden Michaels has already had his faith and sanity upended once before ... and he is not particularly keen on being made one of Odin's playthings yet again ....

I thoroughly enjoyed The All Father Paradox, the first book in the Vikingverse series, so I was more than happy to sit down and review Loki's Wager. As was the case with the first volume, if all you are looking for is an engaging alternate history, then you will be more than satisfied. But there is a lot more than that going on here: there are deep discussions about fate versus free will; media manipulation and freedom of information; religious intolerance and piety; the dangers (and advantages) of theocratic political states; the intermingling of mythology, poetry, and science; ecology and evolution; the fine or even nonexistent line between magic, spirit, and technology; ecology and evolution and genetic manipulation; and so much, much more.

If anything, Loki's Wager is even more of a mind-bending (and time-bending) trip than the first book. And, much like The All Father Paradox, nothing seems to go together, at least at first. Sharpe neatly takes real-world events and people, tweaks them just a bit, and reworks them into a history-that-might-have-been. For instance, the journey of al-Djayani from Moorish Spain to Norse-conquered Ireland echoes that of the real-world ibn Battuta, while "The Chronicle of Koenugardr" echoes the march of the Golden Horde (the Tatars) against Russia and eastern Europe. Alternate versions of real people, songs, and books also make an appearance, e.g., Shirlock Holmr, Symeon and Glorfinkel, and Róƌbjartr Frosti. At one point, Idunn Lind even quotes Arnthórr C. Klakkr, who stated that "any sufficiently advanced galdrar is indistinguishable from technology."

Actually, Idunn's discussions of physics, ecology, technology, language, and music pretty much by themselves make it worth picking up Loki's Wager. Such as this critique of our world:

But there is something that has been lost from this place. It is as if consciousness has been dismissed, and magic banished. Your philosophers and scientists have stripped their crafts of anything that might seem mystical, forgetting that the universe is a living, breathing entity. What is left is inert, mechanistic. Unthinking. Unfeeling. ....

Followed not long after by her critique of reason, enlightenment, and the quest for knowledge:

Our All Father sacrificed himself for knowledge. For magic staves, keys to the Tree of Life itself. Then, as soon as he had them, he flung open the doors and let his offspring find their own path to eternity. 

Oh, and one more:

"Skuggsja, er, quantum. Roteind and nifteind, root-particles and sister-particles." Once you understood the intimacies of photosynthesis and the migration of birds, the intricacies of quantum biology were simple ....

To put it simply: this is not a book that can be read quickly in an afternoon. Sharpe does not go easy on his readers. He'll drop you smack in the middle of things and expect you to keep up; or, at the very least, be willing to take your time, go back, re-read, and untwist and unturn all of the twistings and the turnings until you get to "a-ha!"

Which, of course, is when Odin shows up.

Recommended to fans of alternate history and Norse fantasy, as well as fans of Aliette de Bodard's Xuya Universe books (very different, in certain respects, but with a similar love of poetry, song, and ecology), Ilona Andrews' Innkeeper Chronicles, and Jolene Dawe's When Worlds Collide. Bear in mind, though: this series has to be read in order. The events in Loki's Wager will not make any sense unless read after The All Father Paradox.

Oh, and a special shout out to cover artist Jeremy D. Mohler. Take a close look. Everything in that image -- from the auroral serpent to the ravens to the inscription on the stone -- relates back to the story in an important way. 


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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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