Date Published: April 2, 2015
Obsession. Treachery. Revenge. Redemption. Certain themes resonate across the centuries.
Selia is a girl on the verge of womanhood, frustrated by the confines of her gender and resentful of the freedom her brother boasts of. Intelligent and resourceful in a time when neither is valued in a female, she longs for an escape from her sheltered existence. Fascinated by the tales of Viking raids told by her maidservant, her hunger for independence is fed through the stories of heathen ferocity she hears at the woman’s knee.
A decision to sneak to the city’s harbor to view the Viking longships leads to an encounter with Alrik Ragnarson, a charismatic Viking warlord whose outward beauty masks a dark and tortured mind. With the knowledge that her father is about to announce her betrothal to a man she doesn’t love, Selia marries Alrik and within a day is on the longship bound for Norway and a new life.
While Selia’s relationship with her new husband grows, her friendship with his brother Ulfrik grows as well. And as Alrik’s character flaws come to light and tension mounts between the two brothers, Selia begins to have misgivings about her hasty marriage . . . especially when a secret from the past is revealed, one that threatens to destroy them all.
Selia studied her husband thoughtfully. "Alrik...when you came to me the next day in the woods, you were surprised I spoke any Norse."
"Then how did you think you could ask me to go with you?"
He paused for a moment. "I wasn't going to ask you—I was going to take you. I wanted to take you the day I saw you in the market." Alrik's eyes burned into hers, and Selia couldn't look away. "You set up such a...such a craving inside me. I had to have you."
"But you didn't take me," Selia whispered.
"No." He swallowed. "I didn't want you to fear me. You do something to me, Selia. I look at you and I lose all reason. You drive me mad with desire and yet at the same time I want to protect you. To protect you from me."
Alrik's face went dark, as though he immediately regretted what he had said. It was the most he had ever opened up to her and the closest he had come to admitting he loved her. Alrik scowled as he pushed her aside to unlace his boots.
He grunted and cursed as he tried to pull them off, getting angrier by the minute, and Selia watched him. He was embarrassed; not at the fact that he couldn't get his boots off, but because he had nearly told her he loved her. She knelt down to help him. "Do you need help with your breeches, too?" she teased in an attempt to lighten his mood, but his scowl only deepened.
"Selia," he said suddenly, "I don't want you to spend so much time with Ulfrik. No more tafl."
"What?" Her smile faded. "Why?"
"It doesn't matter why. Because I said so."
Selia's lip quivered as she stood up. "Have I...done something wrong?"
Alrik looked at her for several moments before responding. "If it had been Ulfrik you met in Dubhlinn—instead of me—would you have gone with him?"
Selia stared at him. Where was this coming from? Did he actually believe she was interested in his brother, or was this simply his way of picking a fight with her after his near-admission of love? A way to deflect the conversation away from what he perceived as a weakness?
"No," she said. "I told you—you are the only one I have ever wanted."
"But you do care for Ulfrik," he pushed. "I see the way you look at him. I see the way you laugh with him."
"He is my friend, Alrik." Selia felt her face flush with anger. "He is kind to me."
"He is kind to you," Alrik mocked. "Yes, he is so kind, and he wants nothing in return. I tell you Selia, you don't know anything about Ulfrik. If I gave the word, he would be all over you just like he was Muirin—"
Selia cried out and covered her ears. "Stop! Why are you saying such things?"
"Because they're true!" His anger was escalating to a dangerous level. "No man can look at you and think of friendship, and Ulfrik is no better than anyone else—"
"Alrik, stop." She put her hands on his face and looked directly into his wild eyes. Selia could feel the tension in his body as it shook with rage; could sense the beast inside him, pacing to get out. She stroked his face gently as one would to calm a nervous animal.
"I only want you," Selia reassured him. "Only you."
Normally when I read historical romance, it's usually based in the 1700's or 1800's. Odin's Shadow was set in the 800's so I had to adjust my frame of reference to account for how women and men's roles were viewed then. Once I did that, everything worked a lot better for me.
With not knowing who is really on Selia's side, her and Alrik's muddy pasts, the shocking return of a particular character and all that comes from that revelation-I found myself unable to put this story down. I found myself empathizing with characters I didn't expect, and both liking and disliking the same character at different points in the story as different plot elements were revealed.
This all makes for a compelling read, one that I give 4.5 stars. I can't wait to read the next in the series to see where this is headed!
About the Author
Erin S. Riley has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in clinical counseling. She is also a board certified lactation consultant and has had extensive training in maternal-child health. Since Erin was a child, she has been fascinated with human nature and what motivates behavior. She enjoys writing stories that reflect real life: Erin's books feature complicated, imperfect characters who love deeply, make reckless decisions, and try again until they get it right.
A lifelong lover of books, Erin taught herself to read at the age of four and hasn’t been without a book since. She is an equal-opportunity reader of fiction and non-fiction, and her shelves are filled with books on psychology, archaeology, anthropology, and general history. The social history of women and their place in society across the ages is a favorite reading topic of Erin’s.
Erin is drawn to any creative pursuit, from making hand-stitched quilts to producing mini-movies for family and friends from home videos. But writing has always been her passion. When Erin isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with her two wonderful children, reading anything she can get her hands on, watching football, and renovating her house with her husband of 17 years who just happens to look like a Viking!