"Thrall: Beyond Gold and Glory" by Barbara Ann Wright
What’s not to like about Lady Vikings, monsters and magic?
At the start we meet Aesa, a trained warrior eagerly anticipating the day when she can join the strongest of ship captains, raiding and pillaging across the realm. At her side stands her partner Maeve, a witch with astonishing natural abilities who can only join Aesa if gifted with a power designed to defeat enemies in combat. The two separate almost immediately, as Maeve does not receive her power (wyrd) in time and must stay behind tending Aesa’s house and grounds.
We follow Aesa as she discovers an island shrouded in a mysterious mist and a woman destined to live her life in service to her oft-times cruel guardians, never permitted to think for herself. Back at home, Maeve reaches out to a mistress of blood magic in an attempt to force her wyrd to come, using any means possible. The two women soon discover the paths they were always destined to follow may not lead them to the happiness they crave.
There are a lot of characters in this novel to keep track of, and I noticed my loyalties shifted from one to another, depending on the circumstances. Which was effective, as incidents and betrayals run rampant in this world, and Wright’s style successfully kept me on my toes, navigating the shifting alliances. However, what stayed with me to the very end was my love for Laret, the blood witch whose soul didn’t match the body she was given at birth. She is secretive and guarded and is constantly resisting the pull of her darker power, choosing only to use it for good. Laret meets her match in Maeve, who helps Laret discover she can be safe in a place where gender identity and sexual preference has no relevance (what a nice thought).
This is a story of finding one’s path where you would least expect it. It is full of bloodthirsty battles and witty repartee (particularly from Maeve), which gave it a nice balanced focus overall. The pacing was solid for most of the narrative, but if there was one thing I would change, it would be the large amount of villains that eventually collide. I felt as though there were a bit too many points of convergence that could have been reduced, giving it a less jumbled feel.
This was the first Barbara Ann Wright novel I’ve read, and I doubt it will be the last. Her dialogue was concise and natural, and she built a fantastical world that I easily imagined from one scene to the next. Lovers of Vikings, monsters and magic won’t be disappointed by this one.