Monday, December 3, 2012

VALKYRIE RISING


Review of VALKYRIE RISING by INGRID PAULSON
(review based on an advance reading copy)

I usually open a book with expectations. Of course, what expectations varies depending on the book, but that's another conversation. With VALKYRIE RISING, however, I had the rare reading experience of starting with a blank slate. The cover and the blurb suggested I might like this book, but offered no convincing evidence for or against that hypothesis. I hadn't heard any buzz, I didn't recognize the author, and I'm not familiar enough with valkyrie mythology to know whether or not that's a selling point for me. Nevertheless, I read the book...and now you can count me among Paulson’s devoted fans!

In retrospect: valkyrie mythology - definitely a selling point. So much fantasy draws from the same wells. I'm not necessarily complaining. I enjoy seeing what different people can do with the same material, I love certain myths, fairy tales, or magical creatures so much that I can read about them again and again, and sometimes even a recognizable formula with familiar elements still satisfies. Of course, when the premise starts with less commonly utilized source material, already there's an implicit promise for a more unique read. VALKYRIE RISING delivers! I'm sure if you map the story arch after finishing the book, it might not seem so terribly groundbreaking, but I'm not talking about any intellectual analysis - rather the emotional impact. I couldn't name one moment during the book in which I could predict the plot's next turn and whether the route stayed fairly straight or took sharp curves the story always held me captive. Even if some twists look simple in an outline or summary, they were blanketed in fog as I was reading.

Voice is another key element and Ellie's voice absorbed me from the first scene. She's my favorite kind of protagonist, without being cookie cutter. She's rather quiet and introverted, but through her perspective we know just how much goes on in her mind. She's slightly cynical (or at least not frustratingly naive like some other shall-not-be-named YA leads) and has a wry sense of humor. She does have flaws, though, before you fear I'm describing a Mary Sue. All in all, she quickly became one my favorite heroines.

Moving past Ellie, her relationships also hooked me early on, in particular her relationships with her brother Graham and with his best friend Tuck. Graham has always been a typical overprotective big brother, but after Ellie recruited his help at a party with a guy who came on too strong, Graham took that as an invitation to scare off any guy from now until forever who expresses the slightest interest in her. While Ellie's certainly not a meek character, Graham has the sibling capability of making her feel like a little girl again, even dredging forth feelings of need and dependency, feelings Ellie naturally resents. The opening scene also establishes Ellie and Tuck's flirtatious, playfully insult-riddled, relationship. What Ellie would never admit aloud, though, is how much she really does like Tuck. For starters, he has a reputation with the ladies and Ellie knows better than assuming his interest in her is anything stronger than his interest in every other girl. There's evidence that suggests Ellie might be the one he really, seriously likes (but as his best friend's little sister is off limits), but we don't know for sure and I applauded Ellie's caution with her own heart.

Speaking of well-handled relationships, I also admired Ellie’s opponent/villain. Astrid’s first cocky saunter on stage might conjure up villain stereotypes, but it’s not long before we see glimpses of what’s behind the mask and it’s not evil. She might be an ally if Ellie plays her hand right…or a tragic enemy if circumstances throw them on opposite sides of a war neither one wants to fight.

Paulson choose her combination of characters and magic system well. Ellie has spent most of her life being protected by males, whether she needed the help or not, but as boys start going missing, it becomes clear that not only are males in the most danger here but Ellie might be the only one who can save Graham and Tuck and all the others.

I did catch a few logic lapses, but they're hardly worth mentioning. I can count them on one hand, they did not detract from a riveting story, and one can explain them away with the right interpretation. Sorry for being so vague, but I'm avoiding spoilers.

I particularly loved the ending, which surprised me not once but again and again before I reached the last line. Satisfying finish. Still, sign me up on the list for those who want the next book the moment it's out!

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