OND ELDR. Breathe Fire.
VEGR YFIR FJOR. Honour Above Life.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I went into Sky in the Deep. I heard about it through book tube and all it really took to pique my interest was “lady viking warrior protagonist.” Yes, please; sign me up for that. Beyond that, I knew nothing about this novel going into it — I didn’t even know that it was a standalone and not book one of a trilogy.
I’m so relieved it’s a standalone. It’s refreshing in this time of series’ (that don’t often need to be series’) to find a book that tells a single narrative with a defined start and end in the span of only the one book; it’s wonderful to find an author who has a singular theme to explore and knows that she can do it within one novel. Does that mean this book is perfect? No. There’s certainly a need to suspend one’s disbelief a bit in some cases, especially in terms of how rapidly characters often undergo their emotional journeys, but it’s not so bad that I would dock this novel for it.
Eelyn is a fantastic protagonist. This is an angry young woman who channels a great deal of grief into vicious, well-trained wrath. She’s also resourceful and well-equipped to handle the violent world in which she lives — after all, we open on the start of the “fighting season” her clan fights regularly with a neighbouring, enemy clan. In the opening quarter of this novel alone, Eelyn suffers dislocations, broken bones, a need for stitches before popping said stitches, and who knows how many scrapes and bruises. Yet she carries on because this has always been her world, and her world is uncompromising and unforgiving.
Except…Eelyn is suddenly forced to learn the power of both compromise and forgiveness. She is forced to reexamine her long-held world views, as well as the world views of not only her family and clan, but the enemy clan they’ve spent lifetimes battling. Eelyn’s journey is partly physically, but predominantly emotional and ethical — her entire life ethos gets called into question when she realises that these two people’s who’ve spent so long fighting each other have more in common than they do in contrast.
Are there contrasts? Of course. Different tribes and clans and peoples will have nuances in the way that they, for example, honour their dead, celebrate a victory, worship their deities, etc. But ultimately there is a commonality: a spirit of humanity. We strive to live and love and eventually die; we want to see our people and our families grow up happy in a world that is safer for them than it was for us. Eelyn has to deal with all of this, all the while enduring a turbulence of emotions that I cannot fathom but that Young writes so damn well, that I was grinding my teeth for much of the novel because I felt everything that Eelyn felt. It was like I was there, feeling everything along with her — and an author who can write emotions as complicated and complex as Eelyn’s and do it was well as Young does, has my immediate attention.
Hell, I even got on board with the romance. To be fair, I am absolutely weak for anything that hints of the enemies-to-lovers trope, especially if I think it’s being done well, so I guess I was an easy mark for the eventual romance. But I think I appreciate more that the romance was alwayssecondary to everything else going on in the story. Sure, it crops up and certainly affects or informs some characters’ decisions, but it’s never the primary focus. This is always a book that is about more than a love story; instead, the love story is just a nice side-dish to a great feast of an adventurous, action-packed novel.