On the coast of Norway over a millennia ago, a young warrior named Jarl visited a renowned shipmaker to request a great vessel to seek his fortune. The shipmaker, Sigurd, wasn't keen, but his beloved and dying wife, Leila, insisted he take on the work. What he produced was his greatest creation, imbued with what can only be described as the spirit of his wife, whose only stipulation for the young warrior was that he must give the ship away, at no cost, once his desire for riches faded.
Five years later, somewhere south of the Caspian sea, a Teclan warrior is in the midst of choosing a husband. Her tribe is practical, unsentimental, and occupy one of the safest places in Dor, essentially impregnable. Unfortunately for Nena, she isn't in Teclan, she's in the tribal lands of the Eastern Plains, with her younger brother and father, and so when they are attacked by Northmen they don't have the safety of their fortress, and Nena is caught - eventually - but she doesn't go down quietly in the fight. It is that moment she captures the eye of the Northmen's leader, and becomes his prisoner. That leader is Jarl, the captain of the Viking Treasure Huntress, on a rampage for the riches of the south, unaware he may find far more worthy treasures than he anticipated.
Nena, the daughter of the Teclan chief, is respected and, of course, highly desired for a wife. The Dor tribes put all faith in the gods when it comes to women choosing their first union with a man or choosing a husband, whichever comes first, and when we meet her she is in a position ready to allow the gods to do their work, and for herself to put away the sword for the hearth once they have shown their preference. Nena, bound to her duty and the will of the gods, has her entire life and perspective turned upside down when she is taken prisoner by Jarl (literally, by his hand!), and I loved watching her eyes being opened by the choices other warrior women have elsewhere in the world. It allowed for great conflict between these two enemies, and the cultures of each peoples, to have both the positive and the negative exposed. Jarl, also respected, also stubborn and also determined to get his way - and get Nena.
Nena is not for those looking for quick romantic or action-packed fixes. This is a slow burner, that takes the reader on a journey rich with the cultures of the Viking Northmen and the tribes of Dor. Both protagonists are alphas, and come from strong, powerful societies in their own right, and so it allows for different dynamics from many romances where characters are opposites in temperament, and I enjoyed seeing the changes in both Nena and Jarl along the way to an equalising middle ground.
I'm generally unfamiliar with the era, so have no idea if it's based on real tribes (of course, Vikings I'm familiar with!) and cultural interactions, but I was totally engrossed with the world and everyone and thing in it and would swear blind it was historically sound even in my ignorance. The narrative was utterly compelling, beautifully ad tightly written, and with such emotional and sensual depth between the two leads it was incredibly easy to see and buy into the story from both perspectives. It is not a short book, but I rarely found myself except through absolute necessity, to put it down in favour for other things.
For me the narrative petered out a little after the culmination in Teclan at the end, from the end of the final battle to Nena and Jarl's personal epilogue. The scenes of their reunion and a final erotic scene, seemed unnecessary to me, and drew out the story a little too long after the emotive high of the final battle, and I found myself rushing through them. The epilogue to the book was nice, and rounded off that story well, of course setting up for the second part in the series. I love the feeling that the Treasure Huntress has a spirit guide, almost seeking along with (or for) her captain for a happiness that its shipmaker and his wife had, and secures the romantic undertones of the narrative.
All in all, Nena is a fantastically written book, for those who want to be swept up in a beautifully detailed and fierce world, with strongly detailed characters and some intense romance.