Review of Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking
Between the Blade and the Heart
Valkyrie Book One
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology, YA
***I received this ARC via netgalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review***
Amanda Hocking’s newest YA Fantasy novel, Between the Blade and the Heart (the first in an expected duology), takes on Norse Mythology in a dystopic, unrecognizable United States where mortals and immortals live together, walking a delicate line of cohabitation in an attempt to keep the peace and strike an equilibrium between mortal and immortal on earth. Though categorized as YA, the novel, which is expected from St. Martin’s Press in January 2018, features sex and alcohol usage and probable leans close to New Adult than YA.
Malin, the novel’s protagonist, is a Valkyrie-in-training, one of those fabled women whose purpose in life is too keep this balance, by “returning” immortals to their extra-wordly existence and ending their time on earth. Her warrior woman skills were passed down to her from her mother, and her mother before that, and so on. Her purpose is clear: follow orders, maintain the balance, don’t fall in love. However, when a mysterious (and of course uber-handsome) stranger breaks into her apartment and tells her a dangerous secret about her own mother, these core beliefs are shaken, and Malin must decide where her loyalties lie and what, or who, she is willing to sacrifice to do what needs to be done.
I really loved this book! I know that more hard-core Hocking fans felt that they didn’t connect with the characters as deeply as in her other novels, but I really loved Malin. She is strong and powerful, but as part of a group of strong and powerful women, not just a special snow-flake who is exceptional in every way. This is something I really loved about this book. For once, it is not just a young girl with a group of men, proving how badass she is. The Valkyries are all badass women!
Equally refreshing is that Malin is not afraid of sex or her own desire. It’s great to start to see a spectrum of sexual feelings, experiences, desires, drives, etc. across YA and New Adult lit. She has real flaws too: she is stubborn, impetuous, and not great at discussing her feelings. She also claims not to love or know what love is, a carry-over from a lesson her mother instilled in her form a young age: be strong and don’t feel too much and Valkyries don’t fall in love or commit long term to anyone. Because of this, she tends to use physical intimacy as a way to feel close, protected, and safe. And yet, she also cares deeply about the people around her, and struggles with letting herself acknowledge this.
Her own fight to figure out her feelings are centrally evident in her relationship with her ex-girlfriend, Quinn, another Valkyrie, with whom she shared and incredibly intense and passionate relationship. While they are no longer together, lingering feelings on both ends lead to multiple complications, especially as Malin finds herself falling for Asher, that mysterious stranger who turned her world upside down. Yes, I know. Another love triangle. But what is particularly refreshing about this love triangle is that Malin cares about and is attracted to people and does not need to define or explain how she can love both Quinn and Asher (based on gender at least, she most definitely compares the two to try and figure out what she wants).
At times, I felt that the discussions about “love” lacked some of the necessary emotional development, particularly between Asher and Malin. For someone who is constantly wondering whether she is loved or can love, Malin does not spend much time thinking about what it means to love someone, romantically or otherwise. However, her relationship with her best friend, Oona is probably my favorite thing about this book. Two women working together, not fighting or competing, with complimentary skills and personalities, standing up for each, looking out for each other, etc. Sometimes, it reads as if Oona is playing the mother to Malin’s petulant child, but as the books progresses she gets her own moments of personality that help shift this a bit.
This tangle of relationships however, is only part of the story. This rag-tag team must figure out how to work around their own personal dramas to figure out how to take on the task at hand: writing a wrong left unhandled and dealing with its possibly earth shaking consequences. The plotting and intrigue of the action portion of the book were a lot of fun and Hocking does a great job of weaving personal turmoil within the larger action of the novel. There are so many fun immortal creatures to meet and powers to explore, and I love the Norse mythology. Oona herself, though a human, has some magical abilities, though it’s sort of unclear how the magic system works.
The larger action of the story centers around questions of free will, and the lack of clarity here is my biggest qualm with this text. Without saying too much, the idea of destiny or fate weighs heavily on all of the characters and the seeming resolution that destiny guides all of them is not really my cup of tea. This is the first in a series, so I’m sure these questions will be explored more deeply, but this notion of fate’s plans take away a lot of the gray areas that make characters and worlds interesting and complex, so I hope more on this is to come in the next book!
Overall, I love reading this story and absolutely cannot wait for the next one! I am most definitely going to go back and read some of Hocking’s other series while I am counting down the days until I can find out what happens to this fun and lovable cast in this super interesting world!