Roleplaying games are one of the funnest, if not the best, ways to bring a character to life. A long time ago, Terry Philips, selected the character sheet of Raistlin Majere, the sly one, twin, red-robed mage, the man with golden skin and hour glass eyes – and he brought him to life. Philips provided the infamous mage with a rasping voice, sarcasm and bitterness that masked arrogance and power, all of which captivated the audience, including Margaret Weis.
Raistlin Majere is of course not the only book character to have first been introduced as a character sheet. Siri Pettersen, also first imagined Hirka, the protagonist of her bestselling Raven Rings trilogy, as a character in a D&D game. “She was a redhead, she had two crows that she could talk to, she was into herbs and healing, and she had a strong sense of right and wrong.” The game has long since ended, but Hirka lives on, and I got to encounter her for the first time in Odin’s Child, the first volume of the trilogy. Hirka was the best part of this epic novel, but unfortunately for me that wasn’t enough.
Hirka Was Born Without A Tail
“What in Slokna are you, then? You’re not a ghost. And you’re not one of the blind. Are you just deformed?”
All people in the world of Ymslanda are born with a tail. It marks them as something familiar, native, one of the seer’s own and capable of bending the Might, the magical force running through the world. All people except one.
Fifteen years ago, Thorrald, a wandering healer, rescues a baby from the stone rings said to allow travel between worlds. This baby was without a tail, an Odin’s Child, a dead abomination, and spreader of the cursed rot. She was still a baby though, and Thorrald couldn’t bear to do her any harm. Well almost, he used his knife to permanently scar the infant and make it look as if wolves bit off the tail. That infant is Hirka, and she will grow up believing she is no different from anyone else. Except she is, and she’s going to need all the help she can get.
Rime, the grandson of a council woman, is Hirka’s best friend and protector, and he’ll do anything to keep her safe. He’s also a guardsman (and something more) who betrayed his heritage and abandoned his responsibilities, and he’ll have to grow up pretty fast.
Urd is the councilman concealing a dangerous curse who wants to bring down the old world order. Craving power, he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. What does he want? Only more power. I’ll address that later on.
One Amazing Character, Two Annoying Ones
“So I can’t bind. So what? It must have happened before. Surely I’m not the only one?”
Odin’s Child is a book that had one absolutely amazing thing going for it, and a lot of other things I felt could have and should have been done better. This created an enjoyable experience that was frequently interrupted by frustrations I could have done without, and they prevented me from fully connecting as much as I would have liked. These are however issues mostly with my personal reading preferences, and not the book itself.
What this book does that is absolutely amazing is flip a common trope on its head, and do it well. In a world where every child is born with the ability to harness the power of the Might, Hirka is powerless. Growing up she is subject to bullying and ostracization because she has no tail and her father is a wandering outcast healer who everyone needs, but no one loves. This created a challenge as the character is forced to rely only on her skills and personality to get her out of scrapes, and more often than not it worked.
Personally, I loved this choice as the book invests a lot in Hirka’s character development: her relationship with Rime and Thorrald, her herbalism skills which she learned from Thorrald, her sense of right and wrong borne from the bullying she suffered as a child, her desire to utilize the might, and her fear of hurting others once she discovers her true origins. Unfortunately, Hirka is the only main character I really loved.
Rime is a character born to privilege who renounced his privilege when he became a guardsman. He did this for personal reasons, but in doing so he abandoned his responsibilities, and we see how this choice plays out throughout the story. He is a character with a very black and white view of the world, and this outlook too often leads to rash immature choices that more often than not had me gritting my teeth. Urd is even worse.
Urd became a councilman to spite the dead father he hated. He is a master manipulator, but what shocked me was how easy it was for so many to so obviously be manipulated by him in ways that made zero sense, except in a fantasy or game setting, where rash words lead to rash actions that help propel the story along. His motivations also were transparently cliché. He is the villain and he plays the villain role exactly as expected, nothing more.
Frustrated by World Building
The plot itself follows the standard pattern expected from an epic fantasy, but this pattern was very loosely woven, and wasn’t fully planned with Hirka in mind. World shaking events are occurring of their own accord, Rime became a guard for his own reasons, and the same with Urd. Her presence leads to reactions (which are explained), but it is the reactions, not her actions that move the plot forward. I am pretty convinced that a lot of the events would have happened anyway, even if Hirka weren’t there which leads me to question whether she was even necessary in the first place. Except she’s the protagonist.
I was also frustrated by the world building. Nothing is explained, and everything needs to be deduced from context which is a challenge in a fantasy world full of detail. I would have liked to learn more about the world. However, the characters didn’t really feel the need to restate what they already knew (for example, the origins of the Seer religion), or how they got from place to place with such convenient timing.
There is no real distance between different areas in this world. Physical distance is determined by plot requirements and different cities could be hours, a day or several days apart depending on when a character needed to show up or by how much the author wanted to delay their arrival.
The end of the book contains a list of characters, places and concepts, as well as a map. However because I was reading a digital copy in English with no table of contents, I was not aware these existed until I finished. Until the very end, I was convinced I would discover some sort of connection to Norse mythology (Odin’s Child after all). If I had known this section existed, I could have adjusted my expectations accordingly – wouldn’t have been bothered that much by the lack of explanations.
The next book continues Hirka’s adventures while leaving the more annoying characters behind. She was the best thing about this novel so odds are I’ll give the second book another chance. However, I’m going to wait for it to be translated to English first. I can absolutely wait for the next one.
The Omer today is foundation in foundation, a double foundation, except I only got one. The Raven’s Rings trilogy references Norse mythology (ravens, Odin, wolves), but it’s not founded on it. Instead this world is created entirely from Siri Pettersen’s imagination, and it’s a fairly impressive piece of work, which I didn’t get enough of in the book. I could easily see myself playing a character in this world, either with a tail or without. I don’t need the Might, just give me a raven companion or two, and an adventure to whet my appetite.