Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Avelynn by Marissa Campbell

by Marissa Campbell
Release Date: September 8th 2015
2015 St. Martin's Griffin
Softcover Edition (ARC); 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250063939
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn't yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it's more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart.

As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?

My Thoughts
Avelynn is one of those books over which I had mixed feelings because I really enjoyed the historical aspects in the story and the difficulty the people faced during the Viking invasion, but I wasn't overly crazy about the romantic story line as I really thought it didn't fit in very well with the overall plot structure.

First of all, the beginning to the book seemed extremely promising.  Avelynn was a very strong character and demonstrated a strength that I thought would be quite interesting if it continued developing the same way the book began; Avelynn trying to show her father, the Earl, that the education he gave her, far beyond that given to girls during this time period, would give her the necessary qualities to rule if anything should happen to him.  She was headstrong, if a bit impulsive, but she was also young and inexperienced in a lot of ways and her faults kind of endeared her to me as it made her seem more likable.  She was also trained in warfare, a war-maiden, and was quite capable of taking care of herself during these dangerous times, something I also liked, as she wasn't dependent on a man to keep her safe all of the time.  Unfortunately, the leeway given to her by her father didn't sit well with everyone and Avelynn had to learn some hard lessons over the course of the story as she butted head with servants and local lords over issues thought to be dealt with only by men.  I liked how she stood up for her beliefs and for those around her, even if she didn't necessarily go about it by the smartest way at times; like I said, some lessons had to be learned the hard way and experience does count for something.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the time period, the setting, as it is not a specialty of mine, and I like learning about different historical eras when I get a chance.  This does make it a bit challenging as I am not always sure if things are historically accurate and I have to trust that the author did her research; there was a resonance of the modern throughout the book, but I wonder if that was done on purpose as some readers, like myself, might have needed a guideline in order to understand where everything took place in relation to modern-day England.  Unfortunately, there was no author's note in this ARC to let me know of any additional information or any changes that were made deliberately.  

I definitely liked the overlap of the old religion (Druid) and the new religion (Christian) and the difficulties this posed to those who continued to worship in the old way.  Avelynn is a high priestess in the old pagan religion, but had to keep that knowledge secret or risk death; luckily those around her who knew about her passions, kept her secrets.  This did help save her life when she came face to face with the Vikings for the first time, a people who still worshipped the old gods and kept faith with the old religion.  

The Vikings were quite interesting and I wished there was more to them in this novel than just their brutality, although I'm really grateful to the author for keeping her descriptions to a minimum as some of the things she described were quite awful.  Unfortunately, the appearance of Alrik though, is where I had difficulty with this novel as I had trouble accepting that two people could fall in love after meeting only a couple of times, and risk the lives of both their peoples on those meetings.  I understand that Avelynn was looking for a way out of her upcoming marriage to an awful man, but I wish the author had kept the romance aspect to a minimum for now, and just focused on Avelynn the warrior, the woman who would save her people from the brutal Vikings.  The historical aspect to this story was interesting enough that it didn't need the addition of a romance, and I thought it just slowed things down and took away from the other interesting plot points that were occurring.

Avelynn is one of those novels whereby I had mixed feelings with reference to the romance as I thought it really slowed down the more interesting aspects of the story line, the Saxon culture and the impending Viking invasion.  I really enjoyed the pagan flavour to the story and the conflicts that arose between the pagan and Christian religions and how things were changing for women because of this influx of changes.  I really enjoyed all of the characters and was disappointed that I didn't get to know a couple of them better due to regrettable circumstances.  I am also hoping that some of the characters will develop into more prominent players as this series unfolds as the way it ended left no doubt in my mind that we will see Avelynn and Alrik in the future as they battle to stay alive.