Thursday, 10 July 2014

Rise of the Valkyries: Strange Maid (United States of Asgard Bk2) Review + author Tessa Gratton Interview

One of my MANY favourite Norse Fantasy authors Tessa Gratton has a new book out in her growing series United States of Asgard, where she follows some truly fascinating characters in an alternative world where the Vikings did settle and found America BUT most importantly where the old ways aren't just continued but the Gods and Valkyries and even Trolls really exist.
The Strange Maid (The United States of Asgard, #2)
Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.

Add to Goodreads shelf:
Add to AmazonUK basket: - WARNING ALREADY LOW ON STOCK! -

I loved her first book The Lost Sun - click on the cover to read my full review:

 What I am now HUGELY EXCITED to talk about is the sequel/follow on from The Lost Sun, - THE STRANGE MAID - a new adventure focusing on Tessa's interpretation and adaptation of the role and indeed powers of Valkyries. My absolutely favourite norse mythical being ever!

I am deeply honoured that Tessa devoted a bit of time to answer my many questions (so many she couldn't answer them all but I still love her) for a humble blog author interview to celebrate her new book.

1.    When you did you become interested in Norse Mythology?
About ten years ago when I was in grad school I began to delve deeply into the mythology. I’d been taking Old English classes, including one where I translated my own Beowulf, and my fascination with Anglo-Saxon culture and poetry led me to the Norse. I read everything I could get my hands on – all the sagas and the eddas, as well as anthropological, literary, historical analysis, biographies of people like Snorri Sturluson and Gudrid Far-Traveller, and even some tomes on modern Heathen magic and the ways Norse mythology has been used (and misused) by people in modern times. 

2.    Do you have a favourite Norse god and why?
I have to admit Odin is my favourite, because in the research I did it became clear to me that he was the most useful to me as an artist. His association with poetry and madness and war speaks to me as a messy, passionate writer. I also discovered that he did a lot of the things that we think only Loki did – like spend time living as a woman, and possibly his sexuality was fluid, too. I like the idea of a god of war, madness, and poetry who’s also pretty queer.

3.    Which character was ‘born’ first? Astrid or Soren?
Between the two of them Astrid was the first. I even wrote several chapters of a version of what became THE LOST SUN from her point of view. I wanted the story to be about faith – to look at the question of “what do you believe in when the gods walk and talk in the world with you?”
Early on in my research I became fascinated with the magic in the Norse stories – the magic people performed, that is. Called seidr, it was performed by women (it was considered unmanly for men to do it, though sometimes apparently they did), and it was focused on prophecy. These women were called seethkonas, and I thought the perfect character to use in order to explore modern American religion through the lens of this alternate USA was a teenaged prophet.
But overall, it was Baldur the Beautiful who was the first major character in THE LOST SUN who I knew. He was one of the seeds of the entire world.

4.    Did you always intend for the characters to have a bit of a road trip journey together?
Yes, actually! I knew I wanted my book to be as Norse as possible and also as American as possible, and one of the mainstays of American literature is the road trip. I love road trips and have grown up with them – every summer my family went on at least one. Some of the most fascinating parts of America can be found on the roadside. The conceit also works well with Viking stories because the very word “Viking” points toward motion and travel: Vikings were known for their own conquering road trips in a way!

5.    Why did you chose to create this alternative world instead of setting your characters in the past or indeed in the present like some Norse fantasy authors I’ve read have?
The entire point of this series – of the world – is to explore American warrior culture, and modern American attitudes toward things like religion, women and violence, commercialism, media saturation… by directly juxtaposing old Norse beliefs with modern American ones. I couldn’t set it in the past without losing that, and I couldn’t make it a contemporary novel without losing that. This world is founded on one major change: Norse gods are real, and they founded the United States. Take that away, take it all away.

6.    Did you always intend the Lost Sun to be the first in a series? Will the series always feature Soren? Or will each new book focus on a different character within the same world? As The Strange Maid focuses on a new character but Soren also makes a new appearance.
I wrote THE LOST SUN as a stand alone. The world was always big enough for more stories, but the core of the first story I was excited to tell – about Baldur, Soren, and Astrid’s interconnected journeys – finishes in the first book.
I knew I needed to tell Signy’s story – the narrator of THE STRANGE MAID after a throwaway line in THE LOST SUN mentions her. Soren plays an important role in her story, and in book 3 there’s another new narrator, but both Soren and Signy play important roles in book 3, too. All three novels contain stand-alone plots, but each previous book sets up pieces for the next one to pick up and run with.
I’m also working on a few novellas, and Soren is in all of them, too, though as a much more tertiary character.

7.    As The Strange Maid is about a young lady wanting to become one of Odin’s Valkyries – did these mythical women have a particular interest for you? They are my personal favourite. Did you find the lack of history, so to speak, of the Valkyries, beneficial to allow you fill in the gaps in your own way or would you have preferred less artistic licence?
LOL less artistic licence? What’s that? It wouldn’t have mattered to me what “real” information we have about Valkyries if I decided I needed some detail to be different for my purposes. I’m a big believer – especially in fantasy – of using the spirit of a thing in order to get my point across. I changed Fenris Wolf to a teenaged girl, for example, as well as writing dwarves out of the world completely, and have played fast and loose with many of the stories Snorri wrote down.
That said, my love of the Valkyries was because of a book I read called WEALHTHEOW AND THE VALKYRIE TRADITION by Helen Damico. I picked it up from the university library because I love the character of Wealhtheow in “Beowulf.” Damico analyses the roles of several queens in the epic poem and other women from mythology, tying them all together into a sort of “cult of Valkyrie” and it is fascinating. I wanted to write about Wealhtheow and Beowulf and Grendel’s mother and Odinic death magic, and that’s the perspective from which I created my Valkyries.

8.    Why do you think the figure of a Valkyries may connect so much with readers, especially female readers of course?
I hope that Valkyrie do connect with readers – especially women – because they are women – magical women – granted access to a world we associate entirely with men: Viking warrior culture. They were Odin’s handmaidens who rode on battlefields and determined who was worthy of being a hero. They were violent and terrible – women to be feared. Though in the later stories the Valkyrie were reduced to being objects of love and beauty, they never quite lost their capacity for violence.

9.  As I am a UK fan, and I’m sure there must be more than just me, will you be making an appearance at any literature festivals, events, book shops or UK tours in the near future?
I don’t have any specific plans at this point, but I do have family moving permanently to the UK this year, so I expect to be visiting frequently. Hopefully there will be something in 2015!
Thanks for having me!


Many thanks and indeed hugs to Tessa for her time and of course her outstanding breathtaking jawdropping writing/work/fun? - I do hope she has as much fun writing it as I do reading it.

Having just finished The Strange Maid myself earlier this week you can see my FULL review with NO SPOILERS by clicking on another hauntingly captivating front cover below:
The Strange Maid (The United States of Asgard, #2)

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