I read All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear because the book of hers I wanted to read (Ink and Steel) wasn’t available. But sometimes things work out in a pleasant surprise and I ended up liking the book quite a lot.
The story begins with Ragnarok and a battle to the death between the Children of Light and the Tarnished. We are dropped into the aftermath, into the carnage, the dark and ice and snow. Only one Child of Light survived, Muire, a waelcyrge (valkyrie). She survived because she fled from the battle. She combs the field looking for survivors and finds one critically wounded valraven (the flying steed of Valkyries). She saves Kasimir’s life and he offers to serve her but she refuses, saying she is not worthy.
For a couple thousand years Muire lives among mortals believing herself a coward and deserving to be alone. But now the world is about to end again, this time because of human greed. And Muire discovers she and Kasimir were not the only ones to survive Ragnarok, one of the Tarnished, Mingan, the Wolf, survived as well and he is on the hunt. Muire thinks she has to save the last human city from the Wolf, but it turns out things are more complicated than that.
The book is a wonderful story about chocies, responsibility, hope, love and forgiveness. Muire, though a Valkyrie, is not a warrior. She is a historian, a poet, a singer. When asked at one point why her name is not in any of the stories she replies, because she was the one writing and telling the stories. And now she diconcertingly finds herself the protagonist of a story she does not want to be in.
Muire is also small. She is so small she has to carry her sword strapped to her back because it is too large to sit on her hip. One of the things I really liked about the story is that Muire does not suddenly become a badass warrior. She stinks at fighting with her sword. But, she learns, there are other ways of fighting and other ways of winning. Nonetheless, she always worries she is not good enough, she is, after all, a coward. But Kasimir believes otherwise and tells her:
‘We are what we are … and that which we are shall be sufficient.’
In the end, of course, it turns out that Muire has more courage than she gives herself credit for.
All the Windwracked Stars is the first book in a trilogy called “The Edda of Burdens.” It is infused with Norse myth but doesn’t require the reader to be well-versed in myth to understand what is going on. It is well-paced and wonderfully written, full of surprises and “Ah!” moments. And even though it is the first book of a trilogy, it can also stand alone. I very much enjoyed it and look forward to reading By the Mountain Bound at some point in the not so distant future.