Initially I was going to review the ebook copy, but a friend of mine unexpectedly bought me the paperback version, so I read that instead (I prefer paper!). By the way, the cover is gorgeous, and the matte finish for the colours is lovely.
Much of the time, historical fiction can suffer from that thing we call idealisation. Many times it’s made to seem too perfect, with pristine interactions, meticulous ways to act, unfettered manners and so on.
Otherwise, it’s made to seem basically unliveable to the point the human race wouldn’t survive. Ingrid’s story was far more refreshing in comparison with a lot of YA I’ve read (though I can’t say it’s a huge amount anymore, I tend to steer clear nowadays) because I believed her story.
She’s a small girl, not made for what she really wanted to do, but with determination and steel. She goes after something, willing to try herself, and prove a worthiness her tribe requires from Shield Maidens, but she has some people trying to hold her back or protect her, and others encouraging her regardless. Comparatively, Ingrid’s friend Selby, who is an excellent fighter, wants the opposite, with everyone encouraging her to be the thing she’s excellent at, but not exploring the possibility she might not want it. It’s a lovely contrast, and something that seems almost taboo to explore sometimes in this day and age, that a girl might want a “traditional” life. What’s also good is that the dialogue, the setting, the people in the tribe, the familial relations and the interests in the opposites sex are all ordinary in a very good way. Because these things happen in life, and it’s what makes characters whole and settings realistic. It doesn’t make them less interesting – it makes them relatable and the characters three-dimensional – the extraordinary is reserved for Ingrid’s journey.
What doesn’t happen in this book is some ridiculous follow-up that Ingrid suddenly becomes the most powerful ever warrior maiden and she rules the world happily ever after blah blah. She takes chances, she disobeys her parents, she witnesses horrific stuff, she fights with her brother, she explores her teenage emotions healthily, she starts to teach herself to become stronger, and she tries some things and fails. She also tries some things and wins.
This, by the way, is the reason I love Ingrid’s story – how often I’ve rolled my eyes at tales where even the smallest, skinniest, least charismatic girls turn into world-battering superwomen who everyone loves, regardless of their flat characterisation and zero charisma, I cannot count. Stories showing a girl failing at anything nowadays are few and far between, and such cardboard cutout writing makes a character uncompelling and unbelievable, and is fairly insulting to girls. What made me want to keep returning to this story was that Ingrid not only tried things and failed, but she accepted that failure and MOVED ON. Some things some people are just not equipped to do. Ingrid learnt that it’s integrity that matters not whether you are perfect and good at everything. When she accepted her restrictions, she found a path to other things that she wasn’t restricted in – and indeed destined for – and some things that were beyond hers and everyone else’s expectations. A far better message than anyone can do anything, because the latter is untrue.
I loved the story, with its layers of old myths and legends, dragons and dark elves, gods and goddesses, tribal simplicity and hardships, honest and believable interactions, adventure and blossoming love, but the message above is why it resonated so well with me. It is a good message for anyone, not just girls, and I hope it’s kept up with the follow-ups in the series. I liked Ingrid, I liked the people around her, who all had things they were dealing with (Jorg, though, damn), and who also teased each other a lot. Plus the stuff with Plintze was brilliant. It’s also pretty cool imagining this happening in York, my favourite city in England – don’t know about you but I can imagine dragons roaming about on the moors up there.