Walking from the pub during a dark and cold winter night, the solitary Thorrald finds a baby abandoned in the snow. Unwrapping her to see if he can find signs of who left her there, he discovers that the child has no tail and is therefore one of the feared abominations from another world, believed to spread the Rot and worse things. Unable to leave her to die, he instead uses his daggers to give her scars, making it look as if wolves tore her tail off.
Fifteen years later, Hirka, as he has named the girl, is worried because she, like all other fifteen-year-olds in the country, is about to go to the capital to complete the Rite, a coming of age ceremony where a person’s future course in life is determined, mainly based on how much magical ability and connection to the natural forces that person has. Hirka has no such abilities. She’s a dud. Not only is she seen as a bit of a freak because her father is the eccentric herbalist and wise-man, living in a possibly haunted hut at the edge of town, but her outspokenness, bright red hair and lack of tail makes her stand out. No one but her father knows that she has absolutely no connection to the Earth, no ability to summon up the mystical forces around her. Her father is determined that they must pack up and leave the little village, seeking refuge in Ravnhov, the one province where the inhabitants ignore the precepts of the capital and no longer send their teens to the Rite. When Hirka expresses reluctance to leave the only life she’s ever known, her father tells her the truth – she’s a human, an Odin’s child, one of the fabled creatures from another world, an abomination and a terror. Her mother didn’t die in childbirth and she was never attacked by wolves as a child, having her tail severed. She is devastated, but determined to find a way to complete the Rite.
Hirka goes to one of her only friends, Rime, for help, unaware that he is in fact struggling with difficulties of his own. Orphaned at the age of six, Rime is from one of the most prominent ruling families in the country, and his grandmother Ilume is one of the most influential members of the Council. While in theory, the twelve seats on the Council are to be open to anyone at the Rite with enough magical ability, in practise the positions are kept within the same twelve families. At his own Rite ceremony, Rime showed immense promise, more magically adept than anyone his age. Completely going against all his grandmother’s expectations, Rime swears himself to the Kolkagga, the secretive, faceless order of assassins employed by the Council, who forswear property and family, fearless in their missions because they consider themselves already dead.
Hirka is unaware that Rime has been training with the order for the last few years since his own Rite ceremony, and is only back home to escort his disapproving grandmother, who is moving permanently to the capital. Having always been an outsider as well, because of his status, Rime greatly values his friendship with Hirka because she never treated him with the fear and/or deference common in everyone else. He’s astonished when she tells him she has no way of sensing the powers of the earth, but working together, they discover that Hirka can channel Rime’s powers as long as they are touching, even amplifying them.
Neither is aware of the sinister machinations of Urd, the most recent member elected to the Council. He wins his place after careful lobbying and manipulation of the other members after his father’s death and is working to incite a war between the rebellious province of Ravnhov and the rest of the country. His reasons for doing so remain unclear at first, but there are clear connections between his schemes and the events that led to Hirka being found in the snow fifteen years ago.
Hirka knows that if it is discovered that she is an Odin’s child and a human, she will most likely be hunted down and killed. She should seek refuge among the people of Ravnhov and stay far away from the Rite ceremony and the capital. Even before discovering her true heritage, she knew that she and Rime were from vastly different spheres, socially and financially, yet when he returns after years away, she can’t help but notice how their childhood friendship has evolved into something more. She knows that she needs to help him stop the war that is brewing, even if it means her secrets being uncovered and her life becoming forfeit.
This is the first fantasy novel I have ever read in Norwegian. I know, it’s my native language, I work as a Norwegian teacher, it’s frankly shameful that I haven’t read more of the huge amounts of great literature produced by my own countrymen and women every year. In my (not very good, but I offer it nonetheless) defence, when I started reading fantasy, in my teens, there was no one really writing decent fantasy in Norwegian, and the early translations of the books I was discovering were generally dreadful. So I became a complete book snob, determined only ever to read fantasy in the original language (English) and haven’t really been paying much attention to what has been produced in my own country for the past two decades.
It was actually a really strange experience to read this book. For the first fifty pages or so, I was having to get used to reading about an epic fantasy world with a distinct and genre-specific vocabulary in Norwegian. I’m well versed in fantasy terms in English, in Norwegian, it’s a different story. Writing this review has proved a bit of a challenge, as this book as of yet isn’t translated into English (I hope for the sakes of all my non-Scandinavian readers that it is, so you can read it too), so I have no reference to help me with a lot of the sometimes unusual Norwegian terms. While I work as a language teacher and teach English as a foreign language to teenagers, I am by no means a translator, and have tried to muddle through as best I can to convey the plot, even though I’m writing in a different language than the book is in originally.
Full review on my blog.